Paul Haggis had an “awkward fling” in 2013 with a smitten young woman, Haleigh Breest, who wanted more intimacy from the Oscar-winning filmmaker and, when there was none, created a #MeToo-adjacent rape allegation. A 2017 lawsuit that has “absolutely destroyed him,” Haggis’ attorney told jurors Wednesday in the first three-hour closing arguments of his civil sexual assault trial in New York.
“There are three ‘R’ words that happened here: rejection, regret and revenge,” said lawyer Priya Chaudhry. “And none of those ‘R’ words are rape.”
Breest was, in Chaudhry’s portrayal, a liar who wanted the affections of a famous, accomplished man, and when it dawned on her that he wasn’t interested and had moved on, she traded different versions of the encounter to different friends and eventually to lawyers as part of a plan to “get even”—to quote one of her lyrics—and shake Haggis down for money.
BREAKING: Paul Haggis sexual assault civil trial: Complete coverage of deadline
Chaudhry appealed to jurors as skeptical, common-sense New Yorkers to question whether Breest was, as she testified, the victim of a “very violent rape” when she failed to report it to police and kept the undamaged but allegedly sperm. -colored tights she wore that night as evidence.
She said the DNA test did not produce any conclusive evidence of sperm belonging to Haggis and asked jurors to consider why they had not seen those tights, even though Breest’s lawyers had shown them her dress and sweater from that night.
She also said she expects Breest’s lawyers, when they file their filings, will often invoke the name “Harvey Weinstein.”
“It’s not ‘Does she feel uncomfortable saying no because of a power imbalance?’ an allegation,” Chaudhry said. “This is not a ‘casting couch’ allegation.” You have to be convinced that this was extremely violent rape, extremely violent oral rape, extremely violent finger rape. That is her story.
In a deposition that lasted more than three hours, Chaudhry said the proof that no rape took place is in Breest’s own words — the confidential emails and texts she sent to friends in the first hours and days after she spent the night at Haggis’ Manhattan apartment. . Breest, then 26, was working as a publicist at a movie screening party that Haggis, then 59, attended as a VIP, and they went back to his house afterwards. Breest has testified that Haggis repeatedly forced himself on her there despite her protests and attempts to escape.
Breest then texted a friend that she was “sick” from oral sex she had given Haggis hours earlier, and the friend, Lyudmila Bouzinova, responded with “lol” in an exchange of “lol” and jokes about older men and the Church of Scientology – Crash swear Million dollar baby Oscar winner Haggis, then 59, had publicly left the church in 2009 – and the dangers of going home with someone you’re not dating when you’re a “drunk poo”.
Jurors again on Wednesday saw those texts displayed on a video screen. “These are text messages from two women who are excited and joking about hooking up with a famous person,” Chaudhry said. “These are not the text messages following a violent rape.
Breest and Bouzinova both said they spoke on the phone before texting, and Breest described what happened to her as non-consensual.
Chaudhry emphasized that Bouzinova, in her first report for the case more than two years ago, said Breest was weighed down by an “overwhelming feeling of not being sure” that the two had sex. Haggis has testified that all he remembers before going to sleep was consensual oral sex initiated by Breest. Directing a text from Bouzinova to Breest calling the sex “borderline rape,” Chaudhry argued that if Breest had actually told her friend what she said in court about what happened, her friend would have called it “rape, ” without conditions, at that time
Chaudhry also questioned the testimony of four women from Canada who testified as Jane Does that Haggis either raped or attempted to assault them in separate incidents between 1996 and 2015. There is no deadline to identify them. Chaudhry said all four women had lied in their testimony and that none had shown evidence that Haggis was capable of ruining their fledgling careers in film and television, or even tried.
She contradicted the women who testified for Haggis. “What you learned from these women is that when Paul Haggis makes you a pass and you turn him down, what happens next is most likely he’s going to teach you how to play backgammon,” she said. “You’re going to be one of his best friends.”
Chaudhry said Haggis’ fear of Scientology retaliation was valid given the church’s history of retaliating against vocal former members through lawsuits and covert actions, and that jurors should consider “strong circumstantial evidence” of the church’s possible role in bringing the accusers forward, even if they have not seen direct evidence of it.
She added: “Regardless of whether Scientology was in this courtroom, Haleigh Breest was not a credible witness.” They are two separate things.”