Paul Haggis trial concludes with jury verdict in Haleigh Breest rape case

Director Paul Haggis was found guilty of three counts of rape and sexual abuse after a former publicist accused him of raping her in his SoHo penthouse in 2013.

The jury awarded Haleigh Breest – who accused Haggis of violently raping her and forcing her to perform oral sex – $7.5 million, with punitive damages to be decided at a later date. Haggis could potentially take a stand again Monday for direct prejudicial questioning by Breest’s lawyers as part of the punitive damages case.

It’s unclear whether Haggis’ legal team will appeal the court’s decision. The Daily Beast has reached out to Haggis’ lawyers for comment.

Breest welcomed the verdict in a statement to The Daily Beast.

“I’m 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,” she said. “The greatest source of comfort throughout this five-year legal journey has been the support I have felt from the women who have bravely shared their own stories and let me know I was not alone.”

Their attorney said they are grateful for the jury’s verdict – which came at 4:40 p.m. Friday, after the jury had deliberated for about six hours.

“We are grateful that the jury was careful and methodical – they looked at all the evidence and did it justice. It has taken a long time to get justice and finally we have it and we are very happy about it.”

Former Scientologist Mike Rinder, who testified on Haggis’ behalf during the trial, told The Daily Beast he didn’t feel justice had been served.

“I think it’s a travesty of justice that the jury was not informed that Ms. Breest did not report the alleged rape to law enforcement but instead sent a demand for money to Paul Haggis,” Rinder said in an emailed Mail statement sent to The Daily Beast. “It was he who went to law enforcement to report the shakedown attempt. This is not the act of a guilty party. I hope his lawyers will appeal this decision. And I’m sad to know that Scientology is just getting started.”

During the civil trial, Haggis’ attorneys claimed the 36-year-old was an “absolute liar” and a “jealous woman” whose flirtatious crush on Haggis turned resentful when he “politely rebuffed” her after a one-night stand. In the closing arguments, Haggis’ defense attorney Priya Chaudhry described Breest’s allegations as “blank robbery”.

The former Scientologist’s legal team had also attempted to argue that the Church of Scientology, from which Haggis publicly defected in 2009, had secretly fabricated the allegations and case against the screenwriter in order to slander his name and bring about his downfall.

Breest testified that Haggis pinned her to a wall in his Manhattan attic before forcing her to perform oral sex on him and claimed that she repeatedly gagged as Haggis straddled her face. Breest, then 26, said so crash The director then pushed her onto a bed and raped her vaginally.

“He’s trying to pull my tights down and I’m trying to pull them up,” Breest said in court. “He looked like the devil – he looked very different than I had seen him before.”

Paul Haggis with his two Oscars for the film crash.

Ian West – PA Pictures

Breest, who cross-examined about 2,500 questions according to her attorneys, filed her lawsuit against Haggis in 2017 — four years after the alleged encounter. She told jurors she was pushed to speak out after what she believed to be hypocritical tweets and comments in newspapers in which he accused Hollywood titan and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein at the height of the #MeToo movement refused.

After Breest filed her lawsuit, four other women came forward and accused Haggis of raping her or attempting to sexually assault her in incidents between 1996 and 2015 at the trial. On the stand, Haggis denied any sexual misconduct by the alleged victims.

Haggis, who has long denied the sexual assault allegations, told jurors the tryst with Breest was consensual. Haggis sometimes cried on the witness stand, describing Breest as “cartoony” and “shy” like “Betty Boop” and sending him “mixed signals” to his penthouse suite in the moments leading up to the sexual encounter. Haggis, who admitted in court “has always been a flirt,” testified that he and Breest exchanged “flirty” work-related emails for months prior to the alleged encounter.

He told the court Breest willingly gave him oral sex but refused vaginal intercourse with her. He could not say for certain if or where he had ejaculated on the night in question, although semen belonging to Haggis was found in the inner crotch of the tights Breest had been wearing on the evening of the incident.

Haggis also testified how the civilian sexual assault case had virtually bankrupted his finances and destroyed his filmmaking career.

“I haven’t been able to clear my name for five years,” Haggis told the jury shortly after taking a stand at the trial.


(LR) Maria Bello, Paul Haggis, Moran Atias, Mila Kunis and producer Michael Nozik attend the premiere of Third personHaggis Last Big Movie Credit.

Kevin Winters

Haggi’s last major credit was screenwriting for the 2013 romance drama Third person, which boasted a star cast including Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody and Olivia Wilde. Haggis, who was working on the film around the time Breest met in Italy, had flown in from Rome hours before the after-party for the film’s premiere, which he was attending on the night in question.

The two-time Academy Award winner testified that his prolific film career came to an abrupt halt when Breest filed her lawsuit in 2017.

In June, Haggis was arrested in Italy after a British woman accused the 69-year-old of raping her in a hotel “for days”. Haggis, who denied the allegations, ended up spending 16 days in a hotel room under house arrest. An Italian judge later dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

His lawyers at the time argued the victim sought a sexual encounter with Haggis in exchange for a role in a James Bond film. Haggis previously wrote 007 spy thrillers Casino royale and Quantum of consolation.

His attorneys suggested Breest may have “fantasized” the encounter.

“Three ‘r’ words happened here: rejection, regret and revenge,” Chaudhry told jurors during their closing arguments on Nov. 9. “And none of those ‘r’ words are rape.”

She added, “They want you to think where there’s smoke there’s fire, but sometimes there’s just a smoke machine,” Chaudhry said.

Breest’s lawsuit had sought unspecified damages.

However, during the closing arguments of the case, Ilann Maazel, Breest’s attorney, portrayed Haggis as a serial predator who repeatedly lied to the jury on the witness stand.

“We must face the cold, hard truth – Paul Haggis is a monster,” Maazel said in court on Wednesday. “He’s a psychopath. He’s cunning and devious and manipulative. He sexually assaulted five women and he has the nerve to step up to the witness stand and play the victim.”


Film director Paul Haggis (R) arrives at the New York Supreme Court on the first day of his trial.


In September, Haggis won a pre-trial battle in which case judge Sabrina Kraus allowed the filmmaker to argue that the Church of Scientology fabricated the allegations and case against him.

“You can never tell the story of Paul Haggis without talking about Scientology,” Chaudhry also stated in her closing arguments. “For most of his life – and for the rest of his life – Scientology clings to him like a dark shadow. Scientology will be his first thought when someone breaks into his home. There will always be a dark corner and that’s always the case for Paul. That goes for Mike Rinder. This is true Leah Remini. You cannot tell these people’s stories without talking about Scientology.”

However, Haggis’ legal team, stating that the burden of proof was not on them to conclusively prove that the Church of Scientology was somehow behind the case, could not establish a clear link between Scientology and the rape he alleges after four weeks became testimony

Breest and the four Jane Does continued to deny any connection to the controversial religion under oath. Her attorneys described the legal strategy as a “sideline” defense to distract the jury.

“We are not committed to the Church of Scientology,” Breest’s attorney, Zoe Salzman, said The daily beast last week. “Never was, never will be.”

The Church of Scientology has also firmly denied any involvement in the Haggis rape case.

“The church has nothing to do with the charges against haggis, nor does it have any relationship with his accusers,” said Karin Pouw, a church spokeswoman The daily beast in an October statement.


Mike Rinder (L) and Leah Remini attend a screening of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.

Michael Kovac

Scientology whistleblower TV actress Leah Remini and former church leader Mike Rinder, both longtime friends of Haggis, testified in court in the embattled screenwriter’s defense to bolster claims made by his defense team.

Remini and Rinder, who co-hosted the Emmy-winning A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermathtestified that haggis was one of the three greatest enemies of the Church.

Remini, testifying over a live video link from Beverly Hills last week, dove into the Scientology Lexicon and described to jurors “suppressive persons,” “separation,” and “fair game” — the alleged extreme practice, all supposed enemies of Scientology to annihilate church by any means necessary.

That king of queens The actress also spoke of Tom Cruise’s “deity-like” status in the religion, which Haggis backed up in his testimony, in which he described the eccentric actor as the second most important person in Scientology next to David Miscavige. Paul Haggis trial concludes with jury verdict in Haleigh Breest rape case

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