Paul Haggis Sexual Assault Civil Trial Opens With Sides Quoting Texts – Deadline

The sexual assault civil trial of Oscar-winning Crash writer-producer Paul Haggis began today in Manhattan. Opening arguments from both sides cited a text exchange by the accuser.

The prosecution pointed to a passage from film publicist Haleigh Breest that read, according to the Associated Press, “[Haggis] was so rough and aggressive,” while the defense pointed out that the accuser also wrote, “I don’t care too much.”

The case centers on allegations by Breest, who claimed in 2017 that Haggis assaulted her in 2013 after the two attended the premiere of the film Side Effects. After myriad efforts by Haggis to have the matter thrown out of court, a New York judge ruled in mid-2018 that the case could proceed. But the Covid pandemic saw the matter put on hold until this week.

Breest is seeking unspecified damages.

In her opening statement, Breest’s lawyer Zoe Salzman said her client didn’t go public with her allegations until after The New York Times published its bombshell exposé on Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, which paved the way for the #MeToo movement. “The hypocrisy of it made her blood boil,” Salzman told the court, according to the Associated Press.

The attorney also read to the jury portions of a text exchange from Breest, per AP. “[Haggis] was so rough and aggressive. Never, ever again … And I kept saying no.” 

In the defense’s opening statement, Haggis attorney Priya Chaudhry read from the same text exchange, quoting Breest as writing, “I don’t care too much. I just hope I don’t now have [professional] enemies.” Chaudhry also noted that Breest wrote an “lol” in talking about performing oral sex, and that she hoped to “see what happens” when she was alone with Haggis again.

As with the rape trial of former That ’70s Show and The Ranch actor Danny Masterson in Los Angeles, the Church of Scientology plays a prominent role in the Haggis case. The defendant, who won Academy Awards for scripting and producing the Best Picture-winning Crash and has three other Oscar noms to his credit, is a former Scientologist who has said their sexual interaction was consensual. He has floated the idea that the accusations are part of a harassment campaign by his ex-church.

Judge Sabrina Krause has agreed to let Haggis and his lawyers develop that notion in his trial, but the jury will not hear about his June arrest in Italy for the alleged repeated sexual abuse of an unnamed woman he supposedly met in April at the Monte Carlo Film Festival. That case is pending, with Haggis denying the allegations.

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