Commentary

Philip Wasserman | A Messy Divorce Gets Messier with Release of Photos

Divorce is sometimes bitter and ugly and can lead to people doing all sorts of irrational and hurtful things. Sometimes, that escalates into a criminal act or domestic violence. 

Revenge porn is a crime in California. Former Rep. Katie Hill and her husband, Kenny Heslep are divorcing. If Mr. Heslep disseminated the texts and nude photos, he is subject to criminal prosecution for revenge porn, which is illegal in California, at the discretion of the district attorney. If convicted of a state crime, he could not be pardoned by President Trump. 

Although criminal law is not my wheelhouse, I have a working knowledge of the basics thanks to law school and an internship at the district attorney’s office during those years. Since 1995, I have practiced family law. And, I can state unequivocally that if Mr. Heslep disseminated the texts and nude photos, it is domestic violence. California Appellate Court decisions are clear on this. Marriage of Evilsizor and Sweeney (2015) is just one in a line of appellate cases on point. 

It might also subject Mr. Heslep to a civil lawsuit for tort damages, but other than obtaining a money judgment to apply against his share of their community property, there is probably no other monetary asset that can be obtained by Ms. Hill against her husband. 

A civil lawsuit should be the least of Mr. Heslep’s worries, and perhaps even criminal prosecution, but a permanent domestic violence restraining order can haunt someone for the rest of their life. It basically ruins a person’s opportunity for any type of government job or a job that requires a security clearance, no matter how low-level that security clearance may be. 

And, that person can forget about a career in law enforcement or security work. After a background check, even some corporations will not hire a person with a domestic violence restraining order against them because the risk of liability is too great. The corporation can easily lose a lawsuit if another employee claims they were violently attacked or even harassed, because the corporation knew or should have known about the domestic violence restraining order since it is public record. 

The permanent domestic violence restraining order is placed in a California statewide computer system that is available to all law enforcement in the state. It is also sent to the U.S. Justice Department and can be shared with federal agencies. I have had people with permanent domestic violence restraining orders against them come to me with stories of how they received “special treatment” by customs when they arrived back in the United States from a foreign trip. When I use the term “special treatment,” I don’t mean they went to the front of the line. 

A permanent domestic violence restraining order can be issued for up to five years, and if renewed, the restraining order is “forever.” The sad thing is that nobody should be forced to lose their job if they are the victim of domestic violence or revenge porn, but from what we know so far, that is what appears to have happened here. 

If Ms. Hill had a sexual relationship with a House staff member, which she denies, then the House Ethics Committee should have completed its investigation. Her admitted sexual relationship with a campaign staffer, while not illegal or a violation of House rules, is arguably stupid. But, if everyone who did something stupid in their personal life had to quit their job, would there be anyone left employed in the United States? 

Because there is no method to impeach a member of Congress (despite what President Trump might say or believe), the voters of California’s 25th District should have decided Ms. Hill’s fate in either the next primary election or the next general election. In the meantime, the House Ethics Committee (which takes this seriously), would have completed its investigation, possibly leading to expulsion, resignation or discipline if an ethical violation had occurred. That is far different than what happened. 

I am not an expert on politics, but young women voters (who view things somewhat differently than my generation, to say the least), and the women victims of domestic violence may be galvanized by what happened to Ms. Hill. 

There is an old saying that might apply to those who cheer Ms. Hill’s resignation: Be careful what you wish for. 

As for Mr. Heslep, the lack of cheering should apply to him as well if news reports that he has requested spousal support from Ms. Hill are correct. Ms. Hill lost a good-paying job and with it the ability to pay Mr. Heslep spousal support. 

Even if she obtains a new good-paying job, family court judges are loath to awarding spousal support to persons found to have committed domestic violence. 

Family Code Section 4310(i) requires that, in ordering spousal support, the court shall consider any history of domestic violence, including the “emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party.” 

We can be certain that Ms. Hill and her attorneys are moving aggressively to obtain evidence of who disseminated the texts and nude pictures. The only thing certain in this case is that it is far from over. 

Philip A. Wasserman is a family law attorney in Valencia. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect those ot The Signal.

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