Paul Haggis lost his civil rape trial after a New York jury found the Oscar-winning director liable on charges that he sexually assaulted a former film publicist after a movie premiere nearly a decade ago.
Haggis was found liable on all three counts of rape and sexual abuse, reports ‘Variety’.
The jury deliberated for nearly six hours and the unanimous jury of four men and two women awarded the plaintiff Haleigh Breest $7.5 million in compensation and recommended punitive damages, which will be decided on November 14.
The decision concludes the three-week trial, which hinged on allegations made by Breest, who sued Haggis in 2017, claiming the filmmaker forced her to perform oral sex on him and then raped her in his Soho apartment.
Breest was working as a freelancer at the 2013 event, which Haggis attended as a guest. Though he doesn’t deny the encounter took place, Haggis maintains it was consensual.
“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 me,” Breest said in a statement after the decision.
“The greatest source of comfort through this five year legal journey has been the support I felt from the women who bravely shared their own stories and let me know I wasn’t alone.”
During closing arguments on Wednesday, Haggis’ attorney Priya Chaudhry tried to combat Breest’s claims by suggesting she’s after revenge and money.
“This trial is not about justice for her. This is a blatant cash grab,” she said. “This lawsuit has utterly destroyed (Haggis’ career), but to Haleigh, this case is about money. It’s a payday.”
But in Breest’s testimony, she says only filed the lawsuit after she saw Haggis condemned Harvey Weinstein in the press after the producer was accused of sexual assault in 2017. “I want Paul Haggis to be held accountable that what he did to me was wrong,” Breest testified last month.
In her hours-long testimony, Breest, who was 26 at the time, says she reluctantly agreed to have a drink at the director’s apartment after he denied her suggestion to go to a public bar.
She recalled feeling “absolutely paralyzed and terrified” as the then 59-year-old Haggis kissed her against her will and took her into a bedroom, where the alleged sexual assault transpired.
In Haggis’ testimony, he presented a different picture of the events that took place on that night.
He alleged that Breest appeared to be very interested in him and voluntarily performed oral sex on him after stating she is “very good at this”.
Haggis also said to jurors that Breest was giving off “mixed signals” at his apartment and says he had “no memory” of engaging in sexual intercourse with her that night.
At the trial, Judge Sabrina Kraus played a few shorts clips from Haggis and Breest’s original video depositions. In the video, Haggis initially answered “no” when asked if his penis penetrated Breest’s vagina.
He later clarified: “It certainly could have. My best memory is that I fell asleep after having oral sex but that’s because I cannot swear to what occurred after that. I don’t know if it occurred or not. I have no memory.”
The Church of Scientology has come up repeatedly in the case. Haggis and his attorneys claimed that Breest’s rape charge came in retaliation over the director’s decision to leave, and loudly criticize, the controversial religion in 2009.
During the trial, attorneys for each party has seemingly agreed there’s “no evidence” to suggest Breest has ties to Scientology, but the defence claims the reason there’s no tangible proof is because the church doesn’t leave behind fingerprints.
Breest’s team has chalked up the argument to a conspiracy theory.