A jury found filmmaker Paul Haggis liable in a sexual assault case that was brought forward by a former publicist who alleged he raped her after a movie premiere in 2013.
The jury ordered the Oscar-winning screenwriter to pay Haleigh Breest at least $7.5 million in damages Thursday, according to attorneys for both Breest and Haggis.
Breest brought the case under the New York City Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act.
Attorney Ilann Maazel, who represents Breest, told CNN by phone, “We’re grateful. We’re thankful. The jury was methodical and did justice today. We are proud, not just for Haleigh but for the entire #MeToo movement.”
In a statement to CNN, Haggis’s attorney, Priya Chaudhry said, “We are disappointed and shocked by this verdict.”
“It was impossible for Mr. Haggis to get a fair trial once the judge allowed the statements of 4 other women who never went to the police, never took any action against him, and 3 of 4 never even came into the courtroom,” the attorney added. “They used this to distort the truth, assassinate Mr. Haggis’ character, paint him as a monster, and use a ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ strategy. 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 alleged that Haggis sexually assaulted her on the evening of January 31, 2013, in his Manhattan apartment when she was 26 years old – “less than half Mr. Haggis’s age,” according to the complaint filed in the state Supreme Court’s branch in New York County in 2017.
“The emotional and psychological damage to Ms. Breest from the attack cannot be overstated: it has been profound and lasting,” the complaint said.
The incident occurred after Haggis and Breest were at a movie premiere, according to the complaint. Toward the end of the event, Haggis offered Breest a ride home, the complaint alleges.
Once in his vehicle, Haggis invited Breest over for a drink.
“Ms. Breest told him she was willing to go to a public bar, but stated she did not want to go to his apartment. Mr. Haggis insisted they go to his apartment,” the complaint said.
Breest “relented” after being “faced with his persistence” and after recognizing that he was a “powerful member of the Hollywood elite who could influence her career,” according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Haggis made unwanted sexual advances and forcibly kissed her.
“She repeatedly told him ‘No’ but he would not stop,” the complaint said.
Haggis got Breest into the bedroom where he forced himself on her and ultimately raped her despite her efforts to push him off, the complaint alleges.
Maazel told CNN that the punitive damage trial will likely continue Monday where he expects Haggis to take the stand.
Haggis is a director, producer and screenwriter. His film credits include “Crash,” which earned him Oscars for best picture and best original screenplay at the 2006 Academy Awards. He also received a nomination for his screenplay for the multi-Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby.”
The filmmaker was detained in Italy over sexual assault allegations earlier this year while he was there to attend a film festival. An attorney for Haggis denied the allegations.