Paul Haggis lost his civil rape trial after a New York jury found the Oscar-winning director guilty of sexually assaulting a former publicist after a movie premiere almost ten years ago. All three counts of rape and sexual abuse against Haggis were found to be true.
After almost six hours of deliberation, the jury of four men and two women decided unanimously to give the plaintiff, Haleigh Breest, $7.5 million in damages. They also suggested punitive damages, which will be decided on Monday.
The decision ends the three-week trial, which was based on claims made by Breest. She sued Haggis in 2017, saying he forced her to have oral s*x with him and then raped her in his Soho apartment. Haggis was a guest at the 2013 event, where Breest worked as a freelancer. Haggis doesn’t say that the meeting didn’t happen, but he insists that it did.
“I’m glad I had the chance to go to court and seek justice and accountability, and I’m glad the jury chose to look at the facts and believe me,” Breest said in a statement after the decision. “The support I felt from the women who shared their own stories with me and let me know I wasn’t alone was the thing that gave me the most comfort during this five-year legal journey.”
During Wednesday’s closing arguments, Haggis’s lawyer, Priya Chaudhry, tried to refute Breest’s claims by saying that she only wants money and revenge.
“This trial isn’t about giving her justice. “This is a clear attempt to get money,” she said. “This lawsuit has completely ruined [Haggis’] career, but Haleigh is only interested in the money. It’s a payday.”
But in Breest’s testimony, she says she only filed the lawsuit after seeing Haggis criticize Harvey Weinstein in the news after the producer was accused of sexual assault in 2017. “I want Paul Haggis to be punished for what he did to me,” Breest said in court last month.
Breest, who was 26 at the time, said in her hours-long testimony that she reluctantly agreed to have a drink at the director’s apartment after he turned down her idea to go to a public bar. She said she felt “absolutely paralyzed and terrified” when Haggis, who was 59 at the time, kissed her against her will and took her into a bedroom, where the alleged sexual assault happened.
In his testimony, Haggis painted a different picture of what had happened that night. He said that Breest seemed very interested in him and that she gave him oral sex after telling him she is “very good at this.” Haggis also told the jury that Breest was sending “mixed signals” at his apartment and that he “had no memory” of having sexual relations with her that night.
At the trial, Judge Sabrina Kraus showed a few short clips from the original video depositions of Haggis and Breest. In the video, when asked if his penis went into Breest’s vagina, Haggis first said “no.” Later, he said, “It could have happened. My best memory is that I fell asleep after oral s*x, but I can’t say for sure what happened after that. I have no idea if it happened or not. I have no recollection.”
A lot has been said about the Church of Scientology in this case. Haggis and his lawyers said that Breest’s rape charge was a way to get back at the director for leaving the controversial religion and criticizing it loudly in 2009. During the trial, lawyers for both sides seem to agree that there is “no evidence” that Breest has ties to Scientology.
However, the defense says that there is no evidence because the church doesn’t leave fingerprints. The argument has been written off by Breest’s team as a conspiracy theory.
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