Deliberations in Paul Haggis rape trial set to begin

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Screenwriter and director Paul Haggis arrives in court for a civil sexual assault trial, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

PA

Jury deliberations are due to begin Thursday in a civil rape case against filmmaker Paul Haggis, tasking a six-person panel with sifting through dueling accounts of what happened between him and a publicist one night in 2013.

According to accuser Haleigh Breest’s account, she reluctantly agreed to have drinks at ‘Crash’ and ‘Million Dollar Baby’ screenwriter’s apartment, then subjected to unwelcome kisses, forced to perform oral sex and raped when she repeatedly refused.

“It’s a Paul Haggis horror movie, and only you can stop it,” one of his lawyers, Ilann Maazel, told the jury during a summary on Wednesday.

According to Haggis’ account, he fights a false claim from a show business publicist who starred with an Oscar winner, showed interest for months, and was a partner – by turns hesitant and impatient – in a consensual encounter.

“This trial has completely destroyed him,” defense attorney Priya Chaudhry said in her closing argument, urging jurors to “release Paul from these false allegations.”

Breest sued Haggis in 2017; she never took her allegations to the police or prosecutors. She seeks unspecified damages.

Breest, now 36, and Haggis, 69, met while she was moonlighting as a staff member at movie premieres in New York. They chatted at events and exchanged emails, interactions he considers flirtatious but which she says were the typical efforts of a PR person to build relationships.

After a January 31, 2013 screening both parties agreed, Haggis offered to drive Breest home and invited her to his loft for a nightcap. She suggested a bar instead.

When he stared at the apartment, she agreed but said she wasn’t going to stay the night. She calls it a clear message that sex was not on the table; he said he took it as a “playful” bet.

Shortly after they arrived, he went to kiss her. And after that, their accounts and characterizations of the night and its aftermath diverge considerably.

Chaudhry portrays Breest as a star-drenched young woman who was excited about her night with the writer-director, disappointed that he hadn’t asked her out again, and turned “a consensual and somewhat embarrassing” into a sexual assault to try to get payment – and a return on investment.

“She’s lying. She’s not upset about what happened at Paul Haggis’ apartment that night. She’s upset that he never invited her back,” Chaudhry said in a statement. closing argument. “There are three ‘r’ words in this case: rejection, regret, revenge. None of them are rape.”

Breest’s attorneys describe Haggis as a scheming narcissist who repeatedly used his cinematic chops and Hollywood status to prey on women who entered his professional orbit.

“As far as young women who are attracted to him, he uses this manipulation to have sex, one way or another,” regardless of consent, Maazel said.

Besides Breest, four other women testified that Haggis sexually assaulted them at different times dating back to the 1990s – claims he denies and his lawyer suggested were fabricated to bolster Breest’s lawsuit. The other women do not complain.

There are no criminal charges associated with the case.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest did.

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