Paul Haggis trial begins in civil case


Jurors received their first look Wednesday at a lawsuit that pits Oscar-winning moviemaker Paul Haggis in opposition to a publicist who alleges that he raped her, the most recent in a lineup of MeToo-era trials involving Hollywood figures this fall.

Opening statements in the civil case in opposition to Haggis started Wednesday in a New York state courtroom. The federal courtroom subsequent door is housing a trial in a lawsuit accusing Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey of sexual assault. In Los Angeles, former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and “That ’70s Show” actor Danny Masterson are preventing legal rape prices at separate trials down the corridor from one another (Weinstein is already serving a 23-year sentence on a New York conviction). All of the lads deny the allegations.

The confluence of trials is a coincidence, however it makes for one thing of a .MeToo moment 5 years after allegations in opposition to Weinstein triggered a dam break of sexual misconduct accusations in Hollywood and past and catalyzed an ongoing motion to demand accountability.

“We’re nonetheless very early on in this time of reckoning,” mentioned Debra Katz, a Washington-based lawyer who has represented many sexual assault accusers. She is not concerned in any of the 4 trials.

In an uncommon flip, each Haggis’ case and Masterson’s even have turn out to be boards for scrutinizing the Church of Scientology, although from completely different views.

In the case in opposition to Haggis, publicist Haleigh Breest claims that the “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” screenwriter pressured her to carry out oral intercourse and raped her after she reluctantly agreed to a drink in his house after a 2013 film premiere. Haggis maintains that the encounter was consensual.

Breest by no means went to police, however quickly after the encounter, she gave buddies an account of what occurred, sending textual content messages that each her legal professionals and Haggis’ attorneys say bolster their case.

“He was so tough and aggressive. Never, ever once more … And I saved saying no,” learn one textual content that her lawyer Zoe Salzman highlighted in her opening assertion. She mentioned the encounter shattered Breest emotionally, however that she did not go public till after the allegations in opposition to Weinstein burst into view in 2017 and Haggis condemned him.

“The hypocrisy of it made her blood boil,” Salzman mentioned.

Haggis legal professional Priya Chaudhry pointed jurors to different components of the identical textual content alternate, saying that Breest added “lol” — for “laughing out loud” — when she talked about performing oral intercourse, and that she mentioned she wished to be alone with Haggis once more to “see what occurs.”

“I do not care an excessive amount of. I simply hope I do not now have enemies” professionally, she wrote, in line with Chaudhry. She argued that Breest falsely accused the filmmaker of rape to get a payout.

“Paul Haggis is relieved that he lastly will get his day in courtroom,” Chaudhry mentioned.

Only Breest is suing Haggis, however jurors may even hear from 4 different girls who instructed her legal professionals that Haggis sexually assaulted them, or tried to take action, in separate encounters between 1996 and 2015. The jury will not hear, nevertheless, that Italian authorities this summer season investigated a sexual assault allegation in opposition to him, which he denied.

“Mr. Haggis used his storytelling expertise and his fame to prey on, to govern and to assault weak younger girls in the movie business,” Salzman instructed jurors. “He does not cease when girls say no.”

Haggis’ legal professional argued there’s one other rationalization for the allegations.

Promising “circumstantial proof,” she advised that Scientologists ginned up Breest’s lawsuit to discredit him after he break up with the church and have become a outstanding detractor.

The church denies any involvement, and Breest’s legal professionals have known as the notion a baseless conspiracy principle that lacks proof of any connection between the faith and Haggis’ accusers.

“Scientology has nothing to do with this case,” Salzman instructed jurors. The church has mentioned the identical.

Scientology is a system of beliefs, teachings and rituals centered on religious betterment. Science fiction and fantasy writer L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 guide “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health” is a foundational textual content.

The faith has gained a following amongst such celebrities as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley. But some high-profile members have damaged with it, together with Haggis, singer Lisa Marie Presley and actor Leah Remini. In a memoir and documentary sequence, Remini mentioned the church makes use of manipulative and abusive ways to indoctrinate followers into placing its targets above all else, and she or he maintained that it labored to discredit critics who spoke out.

The church has vociferously disputed the claims.

Haggis says he was Scientologist for 3 many years earlier than leaving the church in 2009. He slammed it as “a cult” in a 2011 New Yorker article that later knowledgeable a guide and an HBO documentary, and he foreshadowed that retribution would come in the type of “a scandal that appears prefer it has nothing to do with the church.”

The church has repeatedly mentioned that Haggis lied about its practices to seize the highlight for himself and his profession. The church did not reply to a request for remark.

Masterson’s lawyer, in the meantime, is asking jurors to ignore the actor’s affiliation with Scientology, although prosecutors say the church discouraged two of his three accusers from going to authorities. All three are former members.

Haggis received his Hollywood begin as as TV author and moved on to films together with “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” which received back-to-back Academy Awards for greatest image in the mid-2000s. The Canada-born filmmaker additionally directed and was a producer of “Crash,” which garnered him and Bobby Moresco the most effective authentic screenplay Oscar in 2006.

In a sworn assertion final 12 months, Haggis mentioned his profession nosedived and his funds cratered after Breest sued him in 2017.

The Associated Press doesn’t often title folks alleging sexual assault until they arrive ahead publicly, as Breest has completed. She is looking for unspecified damages.


Associated Press author Deepa Bharath contributed from Los Angeles.


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