Katie Hill Bankrupt After Losing Revenge Porn Suit

The law is behind the times.

LA Times (“Former Rep. Katie Hill, who lost revenge porn lawsuit, files for bankruptcy“)

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.

I’m as close to a free speech absolutist as they come but can come up with no principle that justifies revenge porn or a right to re-publish it. Regardless of whether one believes the US Constitution guarantees personal privacy via substantive due process (and I’m skeptical on that front) basic decency demands that we shun those who do this sort of thing.

Certainly, a Member of Congress is a public figure and the fact that someone has published scandalous photos or videos of her would be newsworthy. So, absolutely believe the press should be free to report and comment on the matter. But they can surely do that without actually re-publishing the images in question.

To be clear: if it wasn’t illegal for them to publish these materials, they shouldn’t be liable for damages under the NYT v Sullivan and succeeding doctrines. But I think an exception should be carved out for this sort of thing and that distributing revenge porn, in general, should be a criminal act.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    In a country where a significant portion of the population is skeptical about the Constitution granting substantive right to personal privacy via due process, the ability to hire lawyers to guide you through the bankruptcy process to escape financial judgement is an important ability. Alas, the same society that values the rights of the citizen to own semi-automatic weapons pretty much unrestrictedly over the rights of…
    say a fifth grader…
    to keep breathing is not going to be likely to be too very concerned over the damage of revenge porn to some rando on the street. Especially if said rando is a US Representative who may well be a political enemy. Over and over social contracts involve diminishing rights we don’t value in favor of emphasizing ones we do. What and who we protect is a comment on what and who we are. Maybe not a good look in this case.

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    Hill admits to having sex with a female campaign worker, IIRC in a threesome with her husband. She is apparently credibly accused, but denies, sex with a male staffer. So there is an element of “if you can’t do the time”. The media published stuff that was publicly available. Her complaint should be against whoever, presumably her ex-husband, made it public. You know, the person who actually committed revenge porn. But he probably doesn’t have enough money to be worth it.

    Clarence Thomas would also like to see tighter restrictions on libel of public figures. Perhaps because as a conservative he thinks our betters should be respected. But also for obvious reasons that one would hope, against evidence, would cause him to recuse should such a case reach the Supremes.

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  3. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    I can’t imagine why anyone, much less a public figure, would allow him or herself to be photographed having sex with any person.

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  4. wr says:

    @gVOR08: And God knows if she’s such a slut she’ll have sex in ways you don’t approve of, she deserves to have nude pictures of herself slathered all over the internet. That’ll show her and any other uppity bitch who thinks she deserves privacy in her sex life. It’s not like she’s a guy, after all.

    Is that what you meant to say? Because it’s how it came across…

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  5. steve says:

    How does this differ from the Hulk Hogan case? It was not OK to publish those naked pictures. Granted a famous billionaire financed that one.

    Steve

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  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @steve: And you thought you didn’t know the difference between the two. If you’ve got the right lawyer, we have the best justice system–criminal or civil–in the world.

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  7. Neil Hudelson says:

    @gVOR08:

    So there is an element of “if you can’t do the time”.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the rest of the phrase “don’t do the crime?” ie don’t do something wrong? From what I’ve read she had consensual sex; and the extra marital element was also consensual with her husband. She’s done no crime, literal or metaphorical, so what time does she need to do?

    Or is the crime having a sex life different than yours/others?

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