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Former Rep. Katie Hill, who lost revenge porn lawsuit, files for bankruptcy

Former Rep. Katie Hill
Former Rep. Katie Hill, in a 2021 portrait, filed for bankruptcy protection on June 30.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Democrat Katie Hill, a former California congresswoman who owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to media parties she unsuccessfully sued over the publication of salacious pictures while she was in office, has filed for bankruptcy.

If successful, the move could allow Hill to avoid paying attorneys’ fees to the defendants, including a conservative website, a British tabloid and two journalists. The financial judgments were rendered in 2021 after a judge dismissed her lawsuit accusing multiple parties of distributing and publishing intimate pictures of Hill without her consent.

The suit received national scrutiny because it pitted California’s “revenge porn” law against the 1st Amendment.

Hill’s attorney said her client is the victim in the case and had no choice other than to file for bankruptcy because of the ruling’s financial toll.

“It’s a broken system where a plaintiff’s sensible use of our legal system to adjudicate fundamental breaches to their sexual privacy results in such financially punishing consequences for daring to file a legal case that bankruptcy is the last resort,” Carrie Goldberg said.

Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill of Santa Clarita is pushing to make revenge porn a federal crime.

June 10, 2021

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Hill said she does not regret filing the suit and called for a federal revenge porn law.

“Victims of cyber exploitation are being let down by our legal system, and I have gotten an unfortunately personal look at the damage that can do,” she wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “I incurred substantial financial loss to fight this case because I believe it was my responsibility to do so to try to protect future victims of cyber exploitation.”

An attorney whose firm represents the two journalists criticized Hill for not paying the court-ordered remuneration.

“Hill’s latest move in seeking to discharge her debts in bankruptcy is yet another example of her attempt to evade responsibility for her errors,” Krista Lee Baughman said. “The bankruptcy process was not meant to enable privileged politicians with the means to earn revenue to evade the natural consequences of their intentional acts. We have questions about this filing, and we will be pursuing them in court.”

A lawyer for the Daily Mail, the British tabloid, declined comment. Representatives of Red State, the conservative website, did not respond to a request for comment.

Hill, 34, became a rising Democratic star when in 2018 she flipped a traditional GOP congressional district that spanned northern Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties.

Katie Hill took Steve Knight’s congressional seat in 2018. Then someone gave his former campaign operatives naked pictures of her.

Oct. 31, 2019

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The following year, as Hill was going through a divorce, Red State published stories alleging that she had an affair with a subordinate, and that she and her then-husband had previously had a sexual relationship with a female campaign staffer. The website and the Daily Mail also published nude pictures of Hill brushing another woman’s hair, holding a bong and sunbathing.

Hill, who is bisexual, acknowledged that the relationship with the campaign worker was inappropriate but denied having an affair with a congressional staffer — an entanglement that would be a violation of House rules. She resigned in late 2019, and Republicans reclaimed the seat in a special election.

Katie Hill’s meteoric congressional career is coming to an abrupt end.

Oct. 28, 2019

A year later, Hill filed her revenge porn lawsuit.

The media defendants successfully argued that Hill’s suit failed to meet the requirements of the statute for several reasons, notably because of a “public interest” exemption in the law, and that they had a 1st Amendment right to publish newsworthy information about an elected official.

The courts ruled that Hill owed about $273,000 in attorneys’ fees to the parent companies of the Daily Mail and Red State, and journalists Jennifer Van Laar and Joe Messina. Hill also owed her attorneys $100,000 at one point.

A phone hearing for the case is scheduled for July 28.

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