Reporter Dismissed as Defendant in Katie Hill's Revenge Porn Suit


LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A reporter who co-authored a story featuring nude photos of Katie Hill -- one with a female campaign staff member and another in which Hill holds a bong appearing to contain marijuana -- was dismissed as a defendant in the former congresswoman's revenge porn suit today by a judge who cited First Amendment grounds.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco found that reporter Jennifer Van Laar, in writing for the Daily Mail, had shown the photos were matters of legitimate interest involving a public official because they addressed Hill's character and qualifications for her position.

Orozco said she was sympathetic to the impact of the publications of photos on Hill, who suffered a second legal setback in her case in two days. On Wednesday, Orozco removed the Daily Mail as a defendant, also on free-speech grounds.

“This is an unfortunate situation for Ms. Hill, no question about it,'' the judge said. She called the decision by Hill's ex-husband, Kenneth Heslep, to make the images available to the media, “tragic and unnecessary.''

However, Orozco said today's motion dealt with the actions of Van Laar and that the First Amendment gives the media wide protection “whether we like the media's politics or not.''

Hill's attorney, Carrie Goldberg, told the judge her decision will have the exact opposite effect the Legislature hoped in enacting the revenge porn law to protect citizens, mostly women, from the unauthorized publication of nude images.

According to media reports, Van Laar was a campaign advisor to former Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, who was unseated by Hill in 2018. A story co-written by Van Laar that appeared in the Daily Mail in October 2019 featuring nude photos of Hill with the female campaign staffer followed a series of reports published on RedState.com, a conservative political site that lists Van Laar as its deputy managing editor.

The 33-year-old Hill submitted a lengthy sworn declaration in opposition to Van Laar's dismissal motion.

“Van Laar knew, or should have known, that I had a reasonable expectation that the images would remain private,'' Hill said. “Van Laar refers to herself as a journalist in her declaration. I believe that California's law against the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images is widely known and believe that someone that describes themselves as a journalist would be aware of it too.''

Moreover, Hill said, “I understand that adults over the age of 21 can legally use marijuana for recreational and/or medical purposes in California. I have, at various points, been prescribed medicinal marijuana in California. To the best of my knowledge, the recreational use of marijuana by adults has been legal in California since 2016.''

Hill's lawsuit was filed Dec. 22 and also targeted Heslep, the Daily Mail and RedState.com. She 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 ordered Heslep to stay at least 100 yards away from Hill, as well as her mother and sister. The TRO was dissolved today when lawyers for both sides told a judge the matter was settled.

Hill and Heslep officially divorced in October.

Hill, a Democrat, resigned her seat in 2019 after the nude photos were published and news emerged that she had a three-way relationship with her husband and a campaign staffer. She was also accused of having an affair with a member of her congressional staff.

Hill publicly blamed her then-husband 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.''

The 25th Congressional District includes 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 Knight. 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.

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