Oscar-Winning Director Found Liable In Rape Case

Paul Haggis has been found liable in all three counts of his rape trial.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

Paul Haggis lost his civil rape trial after a New York jury found him guilty of sexually assaulting a former film publicist after a movie premiere almost 10 years ago. The Oscar-winning director was found liable on all three counts of rape and sexual abuse. After nearly six hours of deliberation, the plaintiff Haleigh Breest was awarded $7.5 million in compensation and recommended punitive damages, which will be decided on November 14th.

The ruling concludes the three-week trial, which hinged on assault allegations made by Breest. She sued Paul Haggis in 2017, claiming the filmmaker forced her to perform sex acts and then raped her in his Soho apartment. The former publicist was working as a freelancer at the 2013 event, which the director attended as a guest. While he doesn’t deny the encounter took place, the Oscar winner maintains it was consensual, Variety reports.

paul haggis

Seated between his lawyers, Paul Haggis looked straight ahead as the verdicts were read. He then stood with his three adult daughters. According to Deadline, the director faces no jail time because the trial was not a criminal proceeding. Outside the courthouse, the filmmaker addressed the press, saying “I’m obviously very disappointed in the results. And I’m going to continue to fight to clear my name.”

While Paul Haggis and his legal team, led by Priya Chaudhry, decide on the best course of action, Breest said she was very grateful for the ruling. She later released a statement through her attorneys saying, “I am 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.”

Breest added that the greatest source of comfort through her five-year legal with Paul Haggis has been the support from the women who shared their own stories. It made her feel less alone. Her lawyers, Zoe Salzman and Ilann Maazel, echoed their client’s sentiments saying they are pleased to see justice served. They also commended Breest for the bravery it took to come forward and stand up for herself.

Breest also expressed gratitude to her former therapist, Catherine Baker-Pitts who treated her from 2017 through 2019. She also testified during the trial that the publicist was suffering from symptoms of trauma due to her encounter with Paul Haggis. Baker-Pitts said she hopes the outcome will help restore a feeling of safety in the world for her client and inspire faith in the power of speaking up.

The verdict against Paul Haggis is the latest judgment in a spate of cases from the #MeToo movement which called out powerful men as sexual abusers. Breest said she felt pressured to spend time with him at events put on by her boss, who fired her after she filed the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the director said she never portrayed their encounter as non-consensual.

It wasn’t until her lawsuit almost five years later, when Paul Haggis called movie producer Harvey Weinstein a “predator,” that he came aware of Breest’s discomfort with their relationship. Interestingly, the filmmaker has called the case a vendetta by the Church of Scientology, after he quit the practice in 2009 with harsh words for its methods. He also spoke at length about his journey through and out of Scientology in a New Yorker profile and an HBO documentary.