Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis denies raping a publicist, jurors said

The jury has begun considering a lawsuit pitting Oscar winner Paul Haggis against a publicist who alleges he raped her.

Pening statements in the civil case against Mr. Haggis began Wednesday in a New York state court.

Publicist Haleigh Breest claims the screenwriter of Crash and a Million Dollar Baby raped her after she reluctantly agreed to a drink at his apartment following a film premiere in 2013. Mr Haggis claims the encounter was consensual.

Ms Breest never went to the police, but shortly after the encounter she told friends what had happened and sent text messages, which both her and Mr Haggis’ lawyers say, to strengthen her case.

“He was so rough and aggressive. Never, ever again… And I kept saying no,” read a text her attorney, Zoe Salzman, highlighted in her opening statement.


Publicist Haleigh Breest said she was sexually assaulted (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

She said the encounter left Ms Breest emotionally shaken but she only went public when the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came into view in 2017 and Mr Haggis sentenced him.

“The hypocrisy made her blood boil,” Ms. Salzman said.

Referring jurors to other parts of the same text exchange, Mr Haggis’ lawyer Priya Chaudhry said that Ms Breest added “lol” – for “laugh out loud” – when she mentioned oral sex and that she said she wanted to go along Lord alone his haggis again to “see what happens”.

“I do not care. I just hope I don’t have any enemies now,” she wrote, according to Ms. Chaudhry. She argued that Ms Breest falsely accused the filmmaker of rape in order to get a payout.

“Paul Haggis is relieved that he’s finally getting his day in court,” Ms Chaudhry said.

Only Mr Breest is suing Mr Haggis, but jurors will also hear from four other women who have told their lawyers that Mr Haggis sexually assaulted them or attempted to do so in separate encounters between 1996 and 2015.

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However, juries do not want to hear that Italian authorities this summer were investigating an allegation of sexual assault against him, which he denied.

“Mr. Haggis used his storytelling skills and fame to exploit, manipulate and attack vulnerable young women in the film industry,” Ms. Salzman told jurors. “He doesn’t stop when women say no.”

Mr Haggis’ lawyer argued there was another explanation for the allegations.

Amid promising “circumstantial evidence,” she suggested that Scientologists stepped up Ms. Breest’s lawsuit to discredit him after he broke away from the church and became a prominent critic.

The church denies any involvement, and Ms Breest’s lawyers have called the show a baseless conspiracy theory that lacks evidence linking the religion to Mr Haggis’ accusers.

“Scientology has nothing to do with this case,” Ms. Salzman told the jury. The Church said so too.

Scientology is a system of beliefs, teachings and rituals aimed at spiritual improvement. Science fiction and fantasy author L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health is a seminal text.

The religion has gained a following among celebrities such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley.

But some high-profile members broke with that, including Mr. Haggis, singer Lisa Marie Presley and actress Leah Remini.

Mr. Haggis says he was a Scientologist for three decades before leaving the church in 2009. In a 2011 New Yorker article that later informed a book and HBO documentary, he labeled them a “cult,” and predicted that retribution in this form would come from “a scandal that looks as if it had nothing to do with the Church”.

The church has repeatedly said Mr Haggis lied about its practices in order to draw attention to himself and his career. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis denies raping a publicist, jurors said

Fry Electronics Team

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