Hill suing ex-husband, media companies and SCV talk show host Messina

Former Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, fields questions from KABC's Amy Powell during a town hall event in Palmdale in January 2019. Austin Dave/The Signal

Former Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, is suing multiple people and organizations, including her ex-husband, two media outlets and local school board member Joe Messina, over the “nonconsensual dissemination of nude or sexually graphic images” of her. 

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by attorneys Carrie Goldberg and Ashley Parris, seeks undetermined damages for “mental pain and anguish and severe emotional distress” for the defendants’ roles in sharing, uploading and distributing intimate photographs of Hill. 

Defendants include Kenneth Heslep, Hill’s ex-husband; Messina, who hosts the syndicated radio talk show “The Real Side”; and the media companies whose publications released the photos and intimate text messages: Mail Media Inc., which owns Daily Mail, and Salem Media Group Inc., which owns Redstate.com. Jennifer Van Laar, the deputy managing editor of Redstate.com, is also listed. 

The former congresswoman resigned after a series of nude photos of her were shared online, as well as allegations of inappropriate sexual relationships with campaign and congressional staff members. A House Ethics Committee investigation was opened into the allegations, but no outcome of the investigation was announced after Hill resigned from Congress effective Nov. 1, 2019. 

Hill acknowledged having a relationship with a former member of her campaign staff but has denied allegations of an intimate relationship with a congressional staff member. 

The lawsuit alleges Heslep would threaten her with guns and other methods if she tried to end their relationship and that when she ended the relationship after relocating to Washington, D.C., to work in Congress, Heslep’s “scorched earth attack began in earnest” by working with right-wing politicians and websites, including Van Laar and Messina, “to carry out his public punishment of Hill.” On Dec. 8, Hill was granted a temporary restraining order against Heslep, who has also been ordered to stay away from Hill’s mother and sister. A hearing on the order is scheduled for Dec. 30. 

“Hill’s life was irreparably altered by the abuse and nonconsensual dissemination and publication of her intimate images. Hill experienced extreme violence and threats from strangers and viewers of the nonconsensual porn. She suffered extreme emotional distress, attempted suicide, and was forced to quit her job,” read the lawsuit. 

Van Laar and media company officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Messina, who serves on the board of the William S. Hart Union High School District, said Tuesday he had not yet seen the legal complaint. 

“Well, I have heard about it; haven’t seen it,” he said. “So, I really can’t comment except to say I’ve done nothing wrong and we will see what happens.”   

In a November 2019 Hart District governing board meeting, which drew a few dozen local residents and activists, Messina discussed allegations that he received the images of Hill and distributed them to other Republicans rather than hand them over to law enforcement. Messina, who did not publish the photos but discussed them on his show, denied the allegations. 

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