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 Judge issues tentative ruling dismissing Daily Mail from revenge porn suit

 

Last updated 4/6/2021 at 10:39pm

Courtesy photo

Former California Congresswoman Katie Hill

LOS ANGELES  - A judge cited First Amendment grounds in issuing a tentative ruling today dismissing the Daily Mail as a defendant in former Rep. Katie Hill's revenge porn suit, which stems from the unauthorized publication of nude images of her.

The Daily Mail's website in October 2019 published nude photos of Hill taken by her former spouse, Kenneth Heslep, according to the former congresswoman's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 22 and alleges state Civil Code violations and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Other defendants include RedState.com and Heslep.

In her tentative ruling, Judge Yolanda Orozco said she is inclined to grant the Daily Mail's motion to dismiss the publication as a defendant, accepting the publication's free-speech argument.

"Here, the intimate images published by (the Daily Mail) spoke to (Hill's) character and qualifications for her position, as they allegedly depicted (Hill) with a campaign staffer whom she was alleged to have had a sexual affair with and appeared to show (Hill) using a then-illegal drug and displaying a tattoo that was controversial because it resembled a white supremacy symbol that had become an issue during her congressional campaign,''

Orozco wrote in her tentative ruling.

"Accordingly, the images were a matter of public issue or public interest.''

Orozco also agreed with the Daily Mail that the photos are a matter of public interest.

"(Hill's) argument that the images are not a matter of public concern because (the Daily Mail) could have simply described the images rather than publishing them is unpersuasive, as the fact that information to be gleaned from an image may be disseminated in an alternative manner does not equate to a finding that the image itself is not a matter of public concern,'' the judge wrote.

Orozco is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday before issuing a final ruling.

Heslep has previously denied allegations of abusing Hill, but the suit alleges otherwise..

"This case is about a man .... stopping at nothing to destroy the life of his ex-wife... when she dared end their relationship after more than 15 years of physical, sexual, verbal, emotional and psychological abuse,'' Hill's court papers allege.

Hill, a bisexual Democrat, resigned her seat in 2019 after the nude photos of her were published and news emerged that she had a three-way relationship with her husband and a campaign staffer.

Hill publicly blamed her husband then for the release of the photos. Speaking in Congress in 2019, she decried a "misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching.''

Hill alleges in her court papers that she lived in fear that if she ever tried to leave, Heslep would kill them both and their animals.

In October 2019, months after Hill had left her relationship with Heslep for good, RedState.com published "the first in a barrage of articles that included pictures and intimate text messages,'' according to Hill's court papers. ``Then the sexually graphic photos were released.''

Hill "suffered extreme emotional distress, attempted suicide and was forced to quit her job, which in this case was the representative of California's 25th Congressional District, one of the most difficult-to-get jobs in the universe,'' her court papers state.

On Dec. 8, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Anne Richardson issued a temporary restraining order directing Heslep to stay at least 100 yards away from his 33-year-old ex-wife, as well as her mother and sister.

The ex-couple officially divorced in October and lawyers on both sides have said they hoped to settle the issues behind the TRO without a trial.

The 25th Congressional District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, and portions of the northern San Fernando Valley, Antelope Valley and eastern Ventura County.

The seat had long been held by Republicans until Hill's 2018 victory over then-Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale. After Hill's resignation, Republican Rep. Mike Garcia defeated Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith in a special election to fill the final 7 1/2 months of the term.

Garcia then beat Smith again by a razor-thin margin in November's election for a full two-year term.

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

 

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