Paul Haggis Rape Trial: Scientology, Hollywood Power at Center of Case

Opening statements began on Wednesday in a civil trial against Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis, who has been accused of raping a publicist nearly a decade ago.

Haleigh Breest, who filed a lawsuit against Haggis in 2017, alleges that the screenwriter and director forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her after she reluctantly agreed to have a drink at his Soho apartment following a movie premiere. Her attorneys asserted to jurors that the director used his fame and position di lei in Hollywood to pressure Breest, who was 26 at the time.

“The defendant, Paul Haggis, is a famous movie director and screenwriter. He’s won two Oscars. He’s talented. He’s powerful. He’s also manipulative, ”the plaintiff’s lawyer Zoe Salzman told the jurors in a Lower Manhattan courtroom. “The evidence in this case will show Mr. Haggis used his storytelling skills and fame di lui to prey on, manipulate and attack vulnerable young women in the film industry.”

She continued, “He lured Haleigh [to his apartment], manipulated her into being alone and he attacked her. He did not stop when she said no. He did not stop when she struggled and resisted. “

Haggis does not deny the two had sex, but he says it was consensual. Moreover, the defense maintains the rape charge came in retaliation for Haggis’ decision to leave and then criticize the Church of Scientology. Haggis parted with Scientology in 2009, after 30 years, over its opposition to gay marriage. He has since alleged that leaders of the controversial religion were trying to “find dirt” on him before the rape allegation was leveled.

“Scientology is very successful at destroying its enemies without leaving a single fingerprint behind,” defense attorney Priya Chaudhry said in opening remarks. She alleges her client di lei was targeted by the church because he “did not leave quietly.”

The defense attorney also referenced a 2011 New Yorker article titled “The Apostate: Paul Haggis vs. the Church of Scientology, “in which Haggis predicted that” within two years, you’re going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church. “

“You may never know if [Breest] is lying because of Scientology, to get his money, or some other reason, ”Chaudhry told jurors. “But the evidence will show lei she’s lying.”

Breest’s attorney refutes that the plaintiff has any connection to the Church. “Haleigh Breest has nothing to do with Scientology. Scientology has nothing to do with this case. “

The Canadian-born Haggis, 69, sat stone-faced throughout the morning, occasionally whispering to one of his attorneys, as the defense and the prosecution presented opening arguments.

Breest’s lawsuit was filed nearly five years ago as the #MeToo movement was gaining prominence. Breest told friends about the encounter in 2013, but she never reported it to the police because she was scared of Haggis and fearful of retaliation, according to her attorney di lei. Her attorney di lei mentioned that Breest felt emboldened to speak out after Haggis condemned Harvey Weinstein in the press after the producer was accused of sexual assault in 2017.

“She decided she had to do something,” Salzman said.

Breest says she was fired as a freelance publicist at The Cinema Society after she brought on the lawsuit against Haggis. According to her attorney di lei, Haggis was friends with Breest’s boss at The Cinema Society, which hosted the movie premiere on the night the incident in question took place.

The defense attorney argues that Breest is trying to extort money from Haggis. In the civil trial, which is expected to take two weeks, Haggis only faces potential monetary damages and not jail time.

Chaudhry reiterated several times to the jurors that they “get to decide whether Haleigh Breest was telling the truth,” adding that Haggis is “relieved he’s finally getting his day in court.”

Though only Breest is suing Haggis, jurors will also hear from four other women who have accused the director of sexual assault.

“The testimony of these four other women will tell you that Paul Haggis does not stop when you say ‘No,’” Salzman told the jurors. “He does not stop when they push him. He does not stop when they struggle. He doesn’t hear about consent. “

After opening remarks, jurors heard from the plaintiff’s first witness, Nancy Manoogian. In a video deposition, she alleges that Haggis sexually assaulted her in 1996 when she was a film and television publicist in Canada.

When she tried to rebuff his advances, Manoogian remembers he asked her: “’Do you want to keep your job? Do you want to keep working? ‘”She alleges that he forced her to perform oral sex. “I was in a state of shock,” she said.

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