LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge who previously cited First Amendment grounds in dismissing the Daily Mail as a defendant in former Rep. Katie Hill's revenge porn suit indicated today she is poised to award the publication its entire demand for more than $100,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
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.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yolanda Orozco eliminated the Daily Mail as a defendant on April 7, prompting the publication to file a motion to recover its costs in reaching that result. In a tentative ruling issued Tuesday, the judge said she is inclined to award the Daily Mail $103,625 in attorneys' fees and $1,120 in costs.
Orozco is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday before issuing a final decision. While judges often award attorneys' fees amounts in amounts smaller than those requested, Orozco's tentative ruling gives the Daily Mail the full total sought.
“Nothing before the court indicates that such time spent on the motion was unreasonable, duplicative or excessive,'' Orozco wrote.
Hill's lawyers argued in their court papers that the Daily Mail lawyers spent an unreasonable amount of time on a “simple'' fee motion and that more than one attorney did the same work.
In her April ruling, Orozco said she accepted the Daily Mail's argument that the publication of the photos was a matter of public concern.
“Here, the intimate images published by (the Daily Mail) spoke to (Hill's) character and qualifications for her position...,'' Orozco wrote. “Accordingly, the images were a matter of public issue or public interest.''
In a Twitter post in response to the April ruling, Hill said she “sued the Daily Mail for their publication of my nonconsensual nude images. ... we lost in court because a judge -- not a jury -- thinks revenge porn is free speech. This fight has massive implications for any woman who ever wants to run for office, so quitting isn't an option.''
Orozco previously granted similar First Amendment-based motions by Salem Media Group, owner of the conservative blog RedState.com, and the blog's managing editor, Jennifer Van Laar, to be removed as defendants in the lawsuit. Hill voluntarily dropped radio show host Joseph Messina from the case.
Orozco earlier awarded attorneys' fees and costs to Messina and Van Laar.
Hill, a 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.
She publicly blamed Heslep 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, 33, alleged 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.
Heslep remains a defendant in Hill's suit. The couple officially divorced last October.
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.
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