Filmmaker Paul Haggis, who won an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby, has been ordered by a jury to pay $7.5 million to a former publicist who accused him of rape, an incident that goes back to 2013. He was charged with three counts of rape and sexual abuse.
Haleigh Breest, a publicist who met him while working at movie premieres in the early 2010s, alleged him of rape in one of several #MeToo-era cases. She said she is grateful to get the opportunity to seek justice and accountability in court. Breest is grateful to the jury for choosing to follow the facts and believed her.
"The greatest source of comfort through this five-year legal journey has been the support I felt from women who bravely shared their own stories and let me know that I wasn't alone."
However, Haggis layer Priya Chaudhry expressed disappointment and shock at the verdict. "We were not allowed to tell the jury so many critical things, such as the fact that when Ms Breest first demanded $9 million for her silence, Paul Haggis is the one who went to the District Attorney and spoke to the police, not Ms Breest, that fact that he sued her for extortion, and the fact that this lawsuit has financially ruined him."
Chaudhry added that it's impossible for her client to get a fair trial after the judge allowed the statements of four other women who never went to the police, never took any action against him, and three of four never even came into the courtroom. "They used this to distort the truth, assassinate Haggis' character, paint him as a monster and use a "where there's smoke, there's fire strategy"."
The lawyer believes no one could have had a fair trial in that courtroom under those circumstances. "This is a shameful exploitation of the #MeToo movement where political sentiment trumps facts."
Breest claimed that after a screening afterparty in January 2013, Haggis offered her a lift home and invited her to his New York apartment for a drink. She said the two-time Emmy Award writer subjected her to unwanted advances and ultimately compelled her to perform oral sex and raped her despite her entreaties to stop. But Haggis told the court that the publicist was flirtatious, and while sometimes seeming "conflicted", initiated kisses and oral sex in an entirely consensual interaction. However, the co-creator of Walker Texas Ranger (1993-2001) couldn't recall whether they had intercourse.
Breest said she suffered psychological and professional consequences from her encounter with Haggis. "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." The publicist told the court that Haggis raped her and is presenting himself as a champion for women.
The jury ordered the Crash writer to award her $7.5 million to compensate for suffering and concluded that punitive damages should also be awarded.