Canadian screenwriter, film producer, and director of film and television, Paul Haggis ordered to pay at least $7.5m to a woman who accused him of rape in one of several #MeToo-era cases that have put Hollywood notables’ behavior on trial this fall.
The jury also decided that additional punitive damages should be awarded, but the amount is to be decided later.
The civil court trial pitted Haggis, known for writing best picture Oscar winners Million Dollar Baby and Crash, against Haleigh Breest, a publicist who met him while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s.
RELATED: Alex Jones Reportedly Ordered To Pay Another $473 Million To Sandy Hook Families
After a screening afterparty in January 2013, he offered her a lift home and invited her to his New York apartment for a drink.
Breest, 36, said Haggis then subjected her to unwanted advances and ultimately compelled her to perform oral sex and raped her despite her entreaties to stop.
Haggis, 69, said the publicist was flirtatious and while sometimes seeming “conflicted”, initiated kisses and oral sex in an entirely consensual interaction. He said he couldn’t recall whether they had intercourse.
Jurors sided with Breest, who said she suffered psychological and professional consequences from her encounter with Haggis. She sued in late 2017. “I thought I was getting a ride home. I agreed to have a drink. What happened never should have happened. And it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him and his actions,” she told jurors.
Breest, in particular, said she decided to sue Haggis because his public condemnations of Harvey Weinstein infuriated her: “This man raped me and he is presenting himself as a champion of women to the world,” she recalled thinking.
Four other women also testified that they experienced forceful, unwelcome passes and in one case, rape by Haggis in separate encounters going back to 1996. None of the four took legal action.
“The behavior showed me that he was somebody who was never going to stop,” one woman testified, saying that Haggis repeatedly tried to kiss her against her will and even followed her into and out of a taxi to her apartment in Toronto in 2015. His lawyers sought to assail the accusers’ credibility.
According to the Guardian, The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest has done. Haggis denied all of the allegations. He told jurors the accusations left him shaken. “I’m scared because I don’t know why women, why anyone, would lie about things like this,” he said.
During three weeks of testimony, the trial scrutinized text messages that Breest sent to friends about what happened with Haggis, emails between them before and after the night in question, and some differences between their testimony and what they said in early court papers.
The two sides debated whether Haggis was physically capable of carrying out the alleged attack eight weeks after a spinal surgery. Psychology experts offered dueling perspectives about what one called widespread misconceptions about rape victims’ behavior, such as assumptions that victims would have no subsequent contact with their attackers.
And jurors heard extensive testimony about the Church of Scientology, the religion founded by science fiction and fantasy author L Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. Haggis was an adherent for decades before publicly renouncing, and denouncing, Scientology in 2009.
A New York jury on Monday unanimously ordered Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis to pay $2.5 million in punitive damages after finding him liable for raping a film publicist, according to Variety.
A civil rape lawsuit was filed against the filmmaker by former film publicist Haleigh Breest, who alleges the filmmaker forced her to perform oral sex on him and then raped her after they attended a movie premiere in 2013. On Friday, the jury unanimously found Haggis liable on all three counts of rape and sexual abuse. They awarded the plaintiff at least $7.5 million in compensatory damages. That brings Haggis’s total damages to $10 million.
In the hallway outside of the court room, Haggis said he planned to appeal the verdict.
“I’ve spent all the money I have at my disposal,” he told reporters. “I’ve gutted my pension plan. I’ve lived on loans in order to pay for this case in a very naive belief in justice. Now we’ll see what the appeals court will say, because we will absolutely appeal. I can’t live with lies like this. I would die clearing my name.”
While Haggis did not face criminal charges in the case, defense attorney Priya Chaudhry argued that the filmmaker has been “decimated financially” and will not have the funds to pay off these damages. She contested that Haggis reached his financial peak in 2001 and is “not some Hollywood mogul.”
“Paul Haggis will not be able to pay the $7.5 million in compensatory damages,” Chaudhry argued during her closing statement. “No one is going to hire him for the one thing he’s done for his whole life besides being a mover.”
The left side of the lower Manhattan courthouse, which was previously filled with family members and other supporters of Haggis, was empty on Monday.
Haggis, best known for his work on Oscar best picture winners “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” testified on the stand that he’d earned approximately $25 million over the course of his Hollywood career. Despite the major financial hurdles he faces, Haggis seemed optimistic that could once again earn “a substantial salary” in Hollywood.
“Yes, when I clear my name,” Haggis said. “Not now, not until I clear my name. When I do, yes.”
Plaintiff attorney Ilann Maazel emphasized to the jury how Haggis has publicly “boasted” about hiding his significant assets, and estimated that the filmmaker has over $3 million stored in his personal bank accounts today. Haggis adamantly denied this, arguing that his total net worth is less than $500,000.
READ NEXT: Dolly Parton Receives $100 Million Courage And Civility Award From Jeff Bezos
Sources: The Guardian, Variety
Source: Read Full Article