Ex-House member who resigned amid scandal hit with $220K fee

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FILE - In this April 3, 2019, file photo, then- Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. The former California congresswoman has been ordered to pay about $220,000 in attorneys' fees to a British tabloid and two conservative journalists she sued after the publication of intimate photos without her consent. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former California congresswoman Katie Hill has been ordered to pay about $220,000 in attorneys’ fees to a British tabloid and two conservative journalists she had sued after the publication of intimate photos without her consent.

The Democrat who briefly represented a district north of Los Angeles had accused them in a revenge-porn lawsuit of violating the law by publishing or distributing the compromising photos. The lawsuit was thrown out earlier this year on First Amendment grounds, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Hill resigned in 2019 after the publication of the photos and amid a House ethics probe into allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of her congressional staffers, which she denied.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco awarded about $105,000 to the parent company of the Daily Mail, a British tabloid. Hill had called for a boycott of the tabloid on Twitter and sought donations for her legal costs.

“A judge just ordered me to PAY the Daily Mail more than $100k for the privilege of them publishing nude photos of me obtained from an abuser,” she tweeted. “The justice system is broken for victims.”

A spokeswoman told the newspaper that Hill plans to appeal the rulings that dismissed her lawsuit. An attorney for the Daily Mail did not respond to a request for comment.

The judge previously ordered Hill to pay about $84,000 to the attorneys of Jennifer Van Laar, managing editor of the conservative website Red State, and about $30,000 to lawyers representing radio producer Joseph Messina. Hill initially accused Messina of being part of a conspiracy to distribute the pictures, but dropped her claim against him earlier this year.

Krista Lee Baughman, an attorney representing Van Laar and Messina, told the Times that the ruling showed that “those who file speech-chilling (intimidation) lawsuits must pay the price.”

Hill, 33, gained national attention in 2018 when she was elected to Congress in a district long under Republican control. She was celebrated as the face of millennial change and was close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow California Democrat.

Less than a year later, as Hill was going through a divorce, Red State published stories alleging that she had an affair with a male congressional staffer and that she and her husband, Kenneth Heslep, had a previous relationship with a female campaign worker. The website and the Daily Mail also published provocative pictures.

Hill confirmed that she and Heslep had a relationship with the campaign worker, which she conceded was inappropriate because the woman was a subordinate.

In December, Hill sued the two media outlets, Van Laar, Messina and Heslep, arguing that they violated California’s revenge-porn law by distributing or publishing intimate images, including photographs that showed her nude.

The publications and Van Laar successfully argued that Hill’s lawsuit failed to meet the requirements of the revenge-porn statute. They also asserted that they had a First Amendment right to publish information about an elected official’s behavior that is newsworthy.

The parent company of Red State has not sought attorneys’ fees, the newspaper said. Heslep has not filed any legal responses and does not have a lawyer on record in the case.

Hill later wrote a book about her experience and formed a political committee to support women and younger candidates, including those of color. She hasn't ruled out another possible run for public office.

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