Women to Heitkamp: You'll hear from our attorney

Sometimes an abject apology can defuse a situation before it escalates into a catastrophe. At other times, however, the offense is so egregious that escalation is all but assured. Heidi Heitkamp found out last night that her campaign’s bizarre choice to name several women without their consent or knowledge as victims of domestic violence falls into Column B:

The misstep has led some women misidentified in the ad to decry the Democratic candidate and question how their names landed on the list, with one group of women saying they are seeking “a lawyer who will take our case” because the ad has “interfered with, or downright ruined, our lives.” …

After Heitkamp spent hours on Tuesday trying to clean up the mistake, Shylah Forde, Megan Stoltz and Alexandria Delzer, three of the misidentified women, provided CNN with a statement from a group they said represents over a dozen women who landed on the list without their consent. They declined to provide the names of all the women who signed on to the statement.

“Heidi Heitkamp’s political agenda has interfered with, or downright ruined, our lives,” they wrote. “Survivors of assault who had taken care to avoid the subject were suddenly bombarded by questions asking them to explain to their loved ones why their name appeared on this list. Women who have never been assaulted spent the day reassuring loved ones of their safety.”

The group of women went on to say that their “privacy was violated on this day” so they have begun to “search for a lawyer who will take our case.”

Search? They’ll have to set up road barriers to keep attorneys from swarming them. North Dakota may have fewer attorneys than New York, for instance, but they all know a sure bet when they see one. More than a few have political ambitions of their own. As long as the attorney’s name doesn’t rhyme with Pikel Mavenatti, the women should be well represented by the end of the week.

What will be the grounds for the lawsuit? Invasion of privacy for anyone who didn’t consent to be publicly named, and perhaps libel in cases where the women weren’t victims of domestic violence at all. Invasion of privacy does cover the public disclosure of “embarrassing private information” for those who are not “public persons,” which certainly seems applicable in this case. Libel might be a tough haul under these circumstances, as it usually applies to falsehoods that damage one’s reputation; being called a victim of domestic violence isn’t exactly an insult. However, the domestic partners of those women, past and present, might have a case for it. A coordinated lawsuit might have a wide number of plaintiffs, if the attorney they get is adventurous enough.

Even so, the risk here isn’t in the courtroom. It would take months to get to trial, and Heitkamp and her campaign attorneys could head that off with a settlement. She’s already admitted guilt on behalf of the campaign and apologized for violating the privacy of these women, who in some cases weren’t domestic violence victims at all. This case is more likely to end in a deal than to ever see one day of testimony in court, unless Heitkamp can’t find a competent attorney to deal with it.

The risk is in the court of North Dakota public opinion, where Heitkamp had already been doing poorly, even before the Brett Kavanaugh debacle. She had already lost sympathy with the Republican voters who barely pushed her over the line in 2012; now she’s about to alienate women, especially on the issue of violence, an issue she clearly was attempting to co-opt in the Kavanaughcalypse. The longer this stays in the headlines, the more Team Heitkamp’s threadbare exploitation will backfire. And the sooner these women get an attorney, the sooner those headlines will come.

After Heitkamp announced her vote against Kavanaugh, some suggested she was auditioning for a gig in progressive media. If so, this blunder — and the lawsuit it will prompt — don’t make for a promising start on Heitkamp’s new career.