March 22, 2023
Paul Haggis

Jury: Canadian filmmaker Paul Haggis responsible for $7.5 million rape lawsuit

Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press

Posted Thursday, November 10, 2022 4:49 PM EST

Last updated Thursday, November 10, 2022 6:24 PM EST

NEW YORK (AP) — A jury on Thursday ordered Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis to pay at least $7.5 million to a woman who accused him of rape in one of the many cases of the #era MeToo who 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 the #MeToo upsurge of whistleblowers, disclosures and claims of accountability 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 beatings – 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 lawyers Ilann Maazal and Zoe Salzman called it a “shameful and unsubstantiated conspiracy theory”.

Born in Canada, Haggis wrote episodes of well-known series such as “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Thirtysomething” in the 1980s. He burst into film 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.

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