Paul Haggis, director of ‘Crash,’ ordered to pay $7.5 million in rape case

Paul Haggis, director of ‘Crash,’ ordered to pay $7.5 million in rape case

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A New York jury found filmmaker Paul Haggis liable in a sexual assault case brought forward by a publicist who alleged he raped her at his Manhattan apartment in 2013, according to the Associated Press.

The jury ordered Haggis, 69, to pay Haleigh Breest, 36, at least $7.5 million in damages, the AP reported, noting that the jury also decided he would be responsible for paying additional punitive damages later on.

Ilann Maazel, an attorney representing Breest, said in a statement, “We are thankful and grateful for the jury’s verdict. Justice was done today. This is a great victory for Haleigh and for the entire #MeToo movement.”

Haggis’s attorney Priya Chaudhry stated that they were “disappointed and shocked by this verdict.” She said they were “not allowed to tell the jury so many critical things,” and that Haggis could not have had a fair trial.

Haggis is known for having written the films “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” the latter of which won him two Academy Awards in 2006 for best picture and best original screenplay. He also directed “Crash,” and shares a writing credit on the film with Bobby Moresco.

Breest filed the lawsuit against Haggis in December 2017 under New York City’s Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act. According to the complaint, Breest was working at a New York film premiere in January 2013 and accepted a ride home from Haggis. The document alleviates that he pressured her to have a drink with him at his SoHo apartment, instead of at a public bar as she said she suggested.

“Recognizing that Mr. Haggis was a powerful member of the Hollywood elite who could influence his career, and faced with his persistence, Ms. Breest ultimately relented and went with Mr. Haggis to his Mercer Street residence,” reads an amended complaint filed in New York County Supreme Court in July 2018.

The complaint alleges that Breest was “shocked, confused, and extremely fearful” as Haggis forcibly kissed her at his residence and forced her to perform oral sex. According to Breest, he raped her afterward.

Both Haggis and Breest tested about the encounter. Haggis said she had seemed “conflicted” at first but then took initiative and “never gave me any indication it was anything other than consensual,” the AP reported. He said he had “no memory” of intercourse.

Breest said she denied Haggis’s assertion from that night that she had been flirting with him “for months” at industry events, and repeatedly asked him to stop while he made unwanted advances at his apartment, according to the AP. She added that at one point, he asked her if she was scared of him.

The jury was shown text messages Breest sent to a friend the day after the encounter. She wrote, “And I keep saying no … But I guess that’s just an invitation or a challenge,” according to Deadline, which reported that Breest’s friend said they “would call this borderline rape.”

Deadline reported that Breest’s attorneys also called upon four other women who have accused Haggis of sexual misconduct, one of whom alleged he raped her in the 1990s and the other three of whom said he had made unwanted sexual advances toward them.

Haggis admitted to the jury that he had a “number of affairs” while married to actress Deborah Rennard, who tested in her ex-husband’s defense and said he “had great relationships with women. I never heard of anything negative,” Variety reported. They married in 1997 and divorced in 2016, years after separating.

Actress Leah Remini also testified as a character witness for Haggis, a fellow former Scientologist. Variety stated that she appeared via video chat and described Haggis as “the victim here,” painting the lawsuit as an attack on the filmmaker for leaving the church. Before Remini’s testimony, according to Variety, both sides agreed Scientology was irrelevant to the case.

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