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Katie Hill Owes Daily Mail $105K for Attorney Fees in Nude Photo Fight

Part of the 2018 "blue wave" that saw a surge of Democrats take over Congress, Hill accused the tabloid, a conservative blog editor and her ex-husband of using "nonconsensual porn" to torpedo her political career.

LOS ANGELES (CN) --- A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered former congresswoman Katie Hill to pay The Daily Mail $104,747.75 in attorney fees for defending themselves in court after they published her nude photos in 2019.

“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,” Hill tweeted Wednesday. “The justice system is broken for victims.”

She included a link to a donation page for her legal fees.

Hill, 33, sued The Daily Mail, a conservative blog editor and her ex-husband for orchestrating “nonconsensual porn” and working together to torpedo her political career. Hill had unseated an incumbent Republican to represent a slice of Southern California in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, but less than a year into office she was accused of having an affair with a staffer by the conservative political blog RedState.

The publication published Hill’s nude photos with its story. The Daily Mail also published its own story with more photos that Hill said could only have come from her ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep. While Hill acknowledged having an “inappropriate relationship” with a campaign staffer before being elected, she denied having an affair with anyone else. She resigned amid a House ethics probe in November 2019.

In her lawsuit, Hill accused Heslep, The Daily Mail’s parent company and RedState editor Jennifer Van Laar of working together to publish the nude photos. She accused the defendants of intentional infliction of emotional distress, nonconsensual distribution of intimate images, civil conspiracy to distribute the images and violation of California’s unfair competition law.

But Judge Yolanda Orozco tossed Hill’s claims against Van Laar and The Daily Mail on anti-SLAPP grounds this past April. Orozco found The Daily Mail’s duty to its readers is to question Hill’s character and qualifications as a member of Congress and that is a matter of public concern. That includes allegations of extramarital affairs with a paid campaign staff member, illegal drug use and whether Hill has a tattoo similar to the symbols formerly used by white supremacists as detailed in the story.

On Wednesday, Orozco ordered Hill to pay the Daily Mail nearly $105,000 in attorney fees and other costs incurred to defend against the lawsuit. In her tentative order which she adopted, Orozco found the fees reasonable.

Hill argued that awarding The Daily Mail attorney fees would condone the publication of her nude photos and the court should consider she has her own legal fees to pay. Hill said the defendants should not be awarded more than 12.5 hours of fees for their work on the instant motion she filed.

Orozco disagreed with that assessment, given Hill had argued she was a victim of revenge porn and cited a media company in her lawsuit.

“Here, it cannot be reasonably argued that the time spent by defendant was excessive when plaintiff necessitated counsel’s work,” Orozco wrote. “Plaintiff herself concedes that the instant suit presents novel issues with far-reaching ramifications. Accordingly, the instant action was one that necessitated extensive research and strategy.”

Those novel issues included application of case law and California’s revenge porn law and how that would apply to a media company, Orozco found.

“The time defendant claims counsel spent researching and drafting its anti-SLAPP papers, as well as the time spent preparing for oral argument, are entirely reasonable even without the detailed billing records provided here,” she wrote.

Last week, Orozco ordered Hill to pay Van Laar nearly $84,000 in attorney fees for having to defend against her lawsuit. In April, she awarded radio producer Joe Messina $30,000 in fees.

Heslep remains the sole defendant in the civil lawsuit.

Categories / Civil Rights, Media, Politics

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