Katie Hill’s ‘Revenge Porn’ Lawsuit Faces a First Amendment Challenge

A defendant named in the former California congress member’s suit has filed a motion to have the case dismissed based on freedom of speech
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A defendant in the lawsuit brought by former Santa Clarita Congresswoman Katie Hill against her ex-husband and others over the non-consensual publication of nude photos that led to her resignation in late 2019 will ask a judge to dismiss the suit on First Amendment grounds Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Jennifer Van Laar—a former GOP operative and an editor at conservative website RedState who published the photos without Hill’s consent and shared them with British tabloid the Daily Mail—will argue that the lawsuit violates the First Amendment by seeking to restrain free speech.

Along with Van Laar, Hill is suing ex-husband Kenny Heslep, Daily Mail parent company Mail Media Inc., RedState owner Salem Media Group Inc., and conservative radio chatterer Joseph Messina, claiming they broke California’s “Revenge Porn” law, which prohibits the distribution of nude photos without the subject’s consent.

Van Laar and the media companies maintain that they can’t be held liable because they were not the original distributors of the pictures (that was allegedly Heslep), and that Hill is not protected by the statute because an elected official’s actions are newsworthy under the “public interest” exemption. They further deny liability under the defense that Hill’s nipples and genitals were redacted in the photos.

“This case is important politically, societally and legally,” Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson tells the Times. “People are going to be watching this case just because it involves Katie Hill, so it will be a consequential decision merely for the fact it’s so high profile. It also will provide some information about the reach of this particular California statute […] With each new case comes important precedential value.”

Doug Mirell, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Hulk Hogan in his sex tape case against Gawker Media, called the suit “creative” when Hill filed it last December.

“If Heslep is the source of everything and he’s the one who is responsible exclusively for the initial distribution, then everybody else down the food chain doesn’t have liability for this,” he said. “But they are essentially saying all of these conspirators should be treated as the initial distributor.”

Hill, who detailed being on the verge of suicide in the wake of the scandal in her memoir She Will Rise, got a temporary restraining order against Heslep in December, claiming 15 years of abuse. Last week, a judge extended that order to April 30.


RELATED: Does an Intimate Image of Congresswoman Katie Hill Qualify as ‘Revenge Porn’?


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