Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis has been found responsible for raping a film publicist in his New York apartment in 2013.
A jury in civil court ordered Haggis, 69, to pay at least $7.5 million to Haleigh Breest, who accused him of rape. The jury also decided that additional damages should be awarded, but the amount will be decided at a later date.
Breest, a publicist who met him while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s, said Haggis raped her after an after-party in January 2013.
After the party, he offered her a lift home and invited her to his apartment in New York 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.
“I thought I was going to get a ride home,” she told jurors. ‘I agreed to have a drink. What happened should never have happened. “And it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with him and his actions.”
After the verdict, Breest told reporters outside the courtroom in New York that she was satisfied with the jury’s decision.
“I am grateful that I had the opportunity to seek justice and accountability in court, and that the jury chose to follow the facts and believed in me,” Breest said.
While Breest was jovial about his victory, Haggis and his legal team went quietly, not saying whether or not they would appeal the decision.
“I’m going to continue to fight to clear my name, and we’re going to keep our options open and see what we’re going to do,” Haggis told reporters.
A civil court jury ordered Paul Haggis (center), 69, to pay at least $7.5 million to a woman who accused him of rape
Haleigh Breest (pictured Thursday), a publicist who met him while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s, said Haggis raped her after an after-party in January 2013
Pictured: Breest hugs his legal team after the jury read its verdict
Haggis, who is known for writing the best picture Oscar winners “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”, stepped outside the New York courtroom after his loss
Haggis is known for writing the Academy Award winners for Best Picture, “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.”
Breest met him while working on film premieres in the early 2010s.
She filed her civil suit against Haggis in 2017 at the height of the #MeToo movement, claiming the famed director had raped her on January 31, 2013, when she was 26 and working as a freelance publicist.
She said Haggis offered her a ride home after a movie premiere on the Upper West Side and, over her objections, took her to his loft home on Mercer Street.
Breest recalled on Oct. 20 that her cell phone was dead when she entered the director’s doorman-less building and boarded an elevator to his penthouse.
Describing the kitchen and living room, she said: “I put my bags down, he walked towards me with his mouth open and tried to kiss me.”
The director, she recalled, “speeded up” when he pinned her against the refrigerator and made contact with her lips.
“I said, ‘How about that wine?'” Breest testified. “I wanted to remind him why I was there, for a drink and wanted to let him know without offending him.”
“He was an important guest. He was a friend of my boss and I didn’t want to make an enemy,” she said.
Breest appeared shocked when she heard the jury find Haggis guilty of four counts of rape
Pictured: Haggis hugs a supporter outside the courtroom in New York on Thursday
Breest filed her lawsuit against Haggis in 2017 at the height of the #MeToo movement, claiming the famed director had raped her when she was 26
Breest said Haggis slobbered over her when he sexually assaulted her in his New York apartment when the two worked together
Pictured: Higgis with members of his family and legal team exiting court on Thursday
Therapist Dr. Catherine Baker-Pitts, who treated Breest from 2017 to 2019, testified that the accuser “lived in a constant state of fear.”
Four other women also testified that they experienced violent, unwelcome advances—and in one case, rape—by Haggis in separate meetings dating back to 1996. None of the four took legal action.
“The behavior showed me he was someone who would never stop,” one woman testified, saying Haggis repeatedly tried to kiss her against her will and even followed her in and out of a taxi to her Toronto apartment in 2015.
Haggis has repeatedly denied the rape allegations, claiming they were filed as a plot against him by the Church of Scientology for speaking out against the group.
Haggis testified that since he spoke out against Scientology in a 2011 New Yorker article, the church has waged war on him by dredging up allegations of sexual abuse by Breest and the other women.
He also accused the church of not helping him stop cheating on his ex-wife, Deborah Rennard, who testified in his defense last week.
No witnesses said they knew Haggis’ accusers or Breest’s lawyers had Scientology ties, and his lawyers acknowledged that Breest himself does not.
Still, Haggis’ attorney Priya Chaudhry tried to convince jurors that there were “footprints, but maybe not the fingerprints, of Scientology’s involvement here.”
The church said in a statement it has no involvement in the matter and claims Haggis is trying to embarrass his accusers with an “absurd and patently false” allegation. Breest’s lawyers have called it “a disgraceful and unsupported conspiracy theory.”
A jovial Breest (right) hugged her legal team for helping secure her victory in court
Along with $7.5 million in punitive damages, the jury said additional punitive damages should be awarded to the victim (left)
Haggis remained silent after the jury read its verdict in the rape trial
The verdict came weeks after another civil jury, in the federal courthouse next door, ruled that Kevin Spacey did not sexually assault fellow actor and then-teenager Anthony Rapp in 1986.
Meanwhile, “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson and former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein are on trial, separately, on rape charges in Los Angeles.
Both deny the allegations, and Weinstein is appealing the conviction in New York.
All four cases followed the #MeToo flurry of accusations, revelations and demands for sexual assault accountability, which was sparked by news reports from October 2017 of decades of allegations against Weinstein.
Breest, in particular, said she decided to sue Haggis because his public condemnations of Weinstein upset her: “This man raped me and he presents himself to the world as a feminist,” she recalled thinking.
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