Jury finds filmmaker Paul Haggis liable in sexual assault case involving former publicist



CNN

A jury has found filmmaker Paul Haggis liable in a sexual assault case brought by a former publicist who alleged he raped her after the release of a film in 2013.

A jury ordered the Oscar-winning screenwriter to pay Haleigh Breest at least $7.5 million in damages on Thursday, according to attorneys for Breest and Haggis.

Breest filed the case under New York City’s Gender-Based Violence Victim Protection Act.

Attorney Ilann Maazel, who represents Breest, told CNN by phone, “We’re grateful. We’re grateful. The jury was methodical and delivered justice today. We’re proud, not just for Haleigh, but for the entire movement # MeToo.”

In a statement to CNN, Haggis’ attorney, Priya Chaudhry, said, “We are disappointed and shocked by this verdict.”

“It was impossible for Mr. Haggis to get a fair trial once the judge allowed statements from 4 other women who never went to the police, never took any action against him and 3 out of 4 never even entered the courtroom.” the lawyer added. “They used it to distort the truth, assassinate Mr. Haggis’ character, paint him as a monster and use a ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ strategy. No one could have had a fair trial in that room under these circumstances. This is a shameful exploitation of the #MeToo movement where political sentiment trumps facts.”

Breest alleged that Haggis sexually assaulted her on the night of Jan. 31, 2013, in his Manhattan apartment when she was 26 years old, “less than half Mr. Haggis’ age,” according to the complaint filed in the state Supreme Court branch in New York County in 2017.

“The emotional and psychological damage of Ms. “The extent of the attack cannot be overstated: it has been deep and long-lasting,” the complaint said.

The incident occurred after Haggis and Breest were at a movie premiere, according to the complaint. Toward the end of the event, Haggis offered Breest a ride home, according to the complaint.

Once in his vehicle, Haggis invited Breest for a drink.

“Mrs. Breest told her she was willing to go to a public bar, but she said she did not want to go to his apartment. Mr. Haggis insisted they go to his apartment,” the complaint said.

Breest “relented” after being “confronted with her persistence” and after recognizing that he was a “powerful member of the Hollywood elite who could influence her career,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Haggis made unwanted sexual advances and forcibly kissed her.

“She repeatedly told him ‘no,’ but she wouldn’t stop,” the complaint said.

Haggis forced Breest into the bedroom where he forced himself on her and eventually raped her despite her efforts to push him away, according to the complaint.

Maazel told CNN that the trial for punitive damages will likely continue on Monday where he expects Haggis to take the stand.

Haggis is a director, producer and screenwriter. His film credits include “Crash,” which earned him Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the 2006 Academy Awards. He also received a screenplay nomination for the Oscar-winning “Million Dollar baby”.

The filmmaker was arrested in Italy on allegations of sexual assault earlier this year while there to attend a film festival. A lawyer for Haggis denied the allegations.

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