Crash filmmaker and Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis was ordered to pay publicist Haleigh Breest $7.5 million after a jury found him liable for raping her in 2013, The New York Times reports. Now, an addition $2.5 million in damages has been ordered, bringing his total to $10 million.
“I’ve spent all the money I have at my disposal,” Haggis said outside of the courthouse. “I’ve gutted my pension plan, I’ve lived on loans, in order to pay for this case in a very naïve belief in justice.” Breest’s attorney Ilann Maazel said his claims of being broke aren’t to be trusted.
The jury returned its verdict in the civil trial Thursday, Nov. 10, after about six hours of deliberation. Because it was a civil trial, Haggis was never facing prison time; however, on top of the $10 million in compensatory damages, he could also face extra punitive damages, which will be determined at a hearing on Monday.
Breest brought her suit in 2017, accusing Haggis of raping her and forcing her to perform oral sex on him at his apartment following a movie premiere in 2013. Breest pointedly decided to file the suit following Haggis’ comments condemning disgraced Hollywood mogul and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein.
The jury began its deliberations Thursday after closing arguments Wednesday, Nov. 9. According to Deadline, Breest’s lawyer, Ilana Maazel, returned to several text messages Breest wrote to a friend the day after the alleged rape, which Maazel also highlighted during opening arguments. Maazel described one of the texts Breest sent — “And I keep saying no” — as “the five most important words in this case.”
Maazel (per Variety) also accused Haggis of using his fame and status to “prey on, manipulate, and attack vulnerable young women in the film industry,” nodding to the testimony jurors heard from four other women who have accused Haggis of sexual assault. Maazel wrapped his argument by urging the jury, “Tell him no, you cannot rape a woman and get away with it. This is a horror film by Paul Haggis — and only you can end it.”
Meanwhile, Haggis’ lawyer Priya Chaudhry, tried to cast doubt on Breest’s memories of that night, while also suggesting she cooked up the allegations to make a name for herself. “She’s a publicist. What she does is create publicity… She wants to be famous. She wants to be Monica Lewinsky,” Chaudhry said. “Maybe she wants a book deal, she said she’s open to it. Maybe she wants a movie, she said she’s open to it.”
Arguably the strangest elements of the trial involved the Church of Scientology. Haggis was a Scientologist for decades before leaving in 2011, and he has criticized the church publicly since then, notably appearing in the famous 2015 documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. Haggis and his legal team have tried to argue that his split from the church was the catalyst for the suit. They even called upon other former Scientologists, such as Leah Remini and Mike Rinder, to boost the argument that the church would do such a thing as part of a retribution campaign.
While Breest has denied any ties to Scientology, the church has denied having any ties to the case. Despite lawyers for both sides at one point agreeing there was “no evidence” supporting claims of a connection, Chaudhry still raised the specter in her closing arguments. “One can never tell the story of Paul Haggis without talking about Scientology,” she said. “Scientology is permanently attached to him like a dark shadow.”
Maazel pushed back on this in turn, declaring, “The Scientology defense is the last cynical grasp of a desperate man. How stupid does he think we are?”