June 5, 2023
Canadian filmmaker Paul Haggis ordered to pay at least US$7.5 million in rape case

Canadian filmmaker Paul Haggis ordered to pay at least US$7.5 million in rape case


A jury on Thursday ordered Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis to pay at least $7.5 million to a woman who accused him of rape in one of several .MeToo-era cases that put the behavior of Hollywood notables on trial this fall. Jurors also plan to award additional punitive damages.

Going from sex to red carpet socializing to Scientology, the civil lawsuit pitted Haggis, known for writing the best Oscar-winning movies ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Crash’, against Haleigh Breest, a publicist who met him while working on film premieres in the early 2010s.

After embracing her lawyers, Breest said she was “very grateful” for the verdict as she left court. In a statement released later, she said she was grateful “that the jury chose to follow the facts — and believed me.”

Haggis said he was “very disappointed with the results”.

“I will continue, with my team, to fight to clear my name,” he said as he left the courthouse with his three adult daughters. One had wept on a sister’s shoulder as the verdict was delivered.

After a screening afterparty in January 2013, Haggis proposed to Breest to come home and invited her to his New York apartment for a drink.

Breest, 36, said Haggis then subjected her to unwanted advances and eventually forced her to perform oral sex and raped her despite her pleas to stop. Haggis, 69, said the publicist was flirtatious and, while appearing “conflicted” at times, initiated kissing and oral sex in an entirely consensual interaction. He said he couldn’t remember if they had sex.

After a day of deliberation, jurors sided with Breest, who said he suffered psychological and professional consequences from his encounter with Haggis. She filed a complaint at the end of 2017.

While awarding him $7.5 million to compensate for his suffering, the jury found that punitive damages should also be awarded. Jurors return Monday for further legal proceedings to help decide that amount.

The verdict came weeks after another civilian jury, in the nearby federal courthouse, decided that Kevin Spacey did not sexually abuse fellow actor and then-teen Anthony Rapp in 1986. Meanwhile, the ‘That ’70s Show’ actor Danny Masterson and former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are on trial, separately, for rape in Los Angeles. Both deny the allegations and Weinstein is appealing a conviction in New York.

The four cases followed .MeToo’s uptick in whistleblowing, disclosures and claims of responsibility for sexual misconduct, sparked by October 2017 reporting on decades of allegations about Weinstein.

Breest, in particular, said she decided to sue Haggis because his public condemnations of Weinstein infuriated her.

Four other women also testified that they had been subjected to violent and unwelcome passes – and in one case, rape – by Haggis in separate encounters dating back to 1996. None of the four have taken legal action.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest did.

Haggis has denied all allegations. Meanwhile, his defense introduced jurors to several women — including ex-wife and longtime former ‘Dallas’ cast member Deborah Rennard — who said the writer-director took matters into his own hands. when they had rejected his romantic or sexual overtures.

During three weeks of testimony, the trial examined text messages Breest sent to friends about what happened with Haggis, emails between them before and after the night in question and some differences between their testimony and what they said in the first court documents.

Both sides debated Haggis’ physical ability to carry out the alleged attack eight weeks after spinal surgery. Psychological experts have offered conflicting perspectives on what have been called common misconceptions about the behavior of rape victims, such as assumptions that victims would have no further contact with their attackers.

And jurors heard extensive testimony about the Church of Scientology, the religion founded by science fiction and fantasy author L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. Haggis was an adherent for decades before publicly renouncing and to denounce Scientology in 2009.

Through the testimony of Haggis and other former members, his defense argued that the church set out to discredit him and may have had something to do with the lawsuit.

No witnesses said they knew Haggis’ accusers or Breest’s attorneys had any ties to Scientology, and his attorneys acknowledged that Breest herself did not. Still, Haggis’ lawyer, Priya Chaudhry, sought to persuade jurors that there were “fingerprints, but perhaps not fingerprints, of Scientology involvement here”.

The church said in a statement it was not involved in the case, saying Haggis was trying to shame his accusers with an “absurd and patently false” claim. Breest’s attorneys Ilann Maazal and Zoe Salzman called it a “shameful and unsubstantiated conspiracy theory”.

Born in Canada, Haggis wrote episodes of such well-known series as “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Thirtysomething” in the 1980s. He broke into the cinema with “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”, which he also directed and co-produced. Each film won Best Picture Oscars, for 2004 and 2005 respectively, and Haggis also won a Screenplay Oscar for “Crash.”

His other credits include screenplays for the James Bond films ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’.

Associated Press reporter Ted Shaffrey contributed.

Resources for victims of sexual assault in Canada

If you or someone you know is dealing with sexual assault or trauma, the following resources are available to support those in crisis:

If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety, you should call 911.

A complete list of sexual assault crisis centers in Canada that offer information, advocacy and counseling is available at ReeseCommunity.com. Resources in your community can be found by entering your postal code.

Helplines, legal services and locations that offer sexual assault kits in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia can be found here.

National Residential School Crisis Line: +1 866 925 4419

24 hour crisis line: 416 597 8808

Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: +1 833 900 1010

Trans Lifeline: +1 877 330 6366

Sexual misconduct support for current or former members of the armed forces: +1 844 750 1648

Find out about your rights as a victim here.

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