Oscar-Winning Director Paul Haggis Appeals Guilty Verdict in Civil Rape Case

Paul Haggis filed appeal motions for post-trial relief on Wednesday after the two-time Oscar-winner was found guilty last month of violently raping a woman in his SoHo loft in 2013.

In newly filed court documents obtained by The Daily Beast, the Crash director’s lawyers have asked the judge to reverse the verdict or order a new trial in a 114-page motion, pointing to a “constellation of errors” on behalf of the court that resulted in “severe prejudice” against Haggis, ultimately “depriving him of a fair trial.”

“Mr. Haggis did not receive a fair trial,” Haggis’ attorney, Priya Chaudhry, wrote in the motion filed on Wednesday evening.

In November, a jury sided in favor of plaintiff Haleigh Breest, who had accused Haggis of forcibly raping her at his Manhattan penthouse following a red carpet film premiere in 2013—10 years ago next month. She was awarded a total of $10 million, including damages.

The case’s judge, Sabrina Kraus, had previously imposed a Dec. 14 deadline for Haggis to file the appeal. On Wednesday, Haggis’ legal team accused Breest’s legal team of violating the rules of evidence and ignoring a court’s pretrial ruling on the use of propensity evidence at trial.

“The Court erred in its rulings on the admissibility of evidence, resulting in severe prejudice to Mr. Haggis,” Chaudhry added. “In addition, a constellation of other errors occurred, which, taken together, deprived Mr. Haggis of substantial justice. Thus, Mr. Haggis is entitled to have this Court set aside the jury’s verdict and direct judgment in his favor, or else grant him a new trial.”

Haggis’ counsel specifically referred to the court’s admitted testimony and sworn statements by four Canadian women who had also accused Haggis of raping them between 1996 and 2015 as “erroneous” and “highly prejudicial.”

At trial, Breest’s lawyers, who painted Haggis as a “monster” and serial predator who used his fame and storytelling skills to “prey” on multiple women, sought to include the testimony of the four other victims to prove Haggis’ intent—and bolster their claims—by demonstrating there was a long-established pattern of sexual misconduct.

Haggis’ lawyers, however, complained that three of the four Jane Does’ testimony, which was captured via a recorded deposition that was played in court, was not held to the same evidentiary standard as live trial testimony.

“Where Mr. Haggis had the right to defend himself against one rape allegation, he was forced to defend himself against five distinct sexual assault allegations,” Haggis’ appeal stated. “As a result, this Court should set aside the jury’s verdict in the interest of justice, or alternatively, order a new trial that prevents the Does’ testimony from being admitted into evidence.”

Notably, Haggis’ lawyers also argued that the court erred in failing to admit into evidence statements he’d previously given the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office—or the fact that he had initially reported the incident to law enforcement, not Breest.

Indeed, after Breest’s attorneys contacted Haggis proposing a $9 million out-of-court settlement related to the rape allegations in 2013, Haggis notified police and filed a lawsuit of his own, accusing Breest of extortion.

They also accused the court of wrongly prohibitingHaggis from using certain exhibits at trial.

“Each of these errors represent an independent basis to grant Mr. Haggis’ application,” the appeal added. “But taken together, their cumulative impact militates even more in favor of this Court setting aside the jury’s verdict in the interest of justice.”

Haggis is scheduled back in court on Jan. 13. The Daily Beast has reached out to attorneys for both Haggis and Breest for comment.

Haggis, who long-denied the sexual assault accusations, testified in court on his own behalf over several days last month. Haggis, who grew tearful on the stand at times, continually labeled the incident with Breest a consensual tryst that had unfolded after months of exchanging “flirtatious” emails.

Breest, meanwhile, had testified that Haggis digitally penetrated her without her consent, claiming she told him “no” and “stop” multiple times before the filmmaker forced oral sex on her and then violently raped her in the guest bedroom of his luxury SoHo apartment. Breest, a former publicist for New York’s Cinema Society, had come into Haggis’ orbit months earlier after meeting at a work-related event.

“He’s trying to pull my tights down and I’m trying to pull them up,” Breest told the court on Nov. 2. “He looked like the devil—he looked totally different than I’d seen him before.”

In Wednesday’s case filings, Haggis’ lawyers zeroed in on the $10 million settlement Breest was awarded, as well, calling the sum “unreasonable.” They requested that the court reduce Breest’s $7.5 settlement and void—or also lower—the $2.5 million punitive damages she was awarded if his appeal requesting a new trial or verdict reversal is denied.

During trial, Haggis’ lawyers stated that the ongoing litigation fees for the case had nearly sent him bankrupt since it was filed half a decade ago. Haggis, too, who claimed the case had “exhausted his savings,” wrote in court papers he was forced to borrow $700,000 in 2020 from his ex-wife, Deborah Rennard, who testified at trial on his behalf, to help him cover the soaring legal costs, according to separate court documents.

“Mr. Haggis has no ability to pay what he already owes,” his lawyers said in court on Nov. 14. “Once he pays the liabilities he currently has outstanding before your verdict, he will have nothing except a pension fund that he shares with his ex-wife.”

In recent weeks, since Haggis was found guilty, Breest’s attorneys have sparred with the screenwriter’s counsel over the director’s property assets, accusing Haggis of unlawfully transferring a rental property in Florida to a third party in March 2022 “in anticipation of an adverse jury verdict.” They also pointed out that Haggis had also transferred ownership in his Mercer Street apartment in SoHo,where the alleged rape occurred, to Rennard in October 2022 amid the trial’s opening.

According to court documents filed by Haggis and his lawyers, however, the 2022 transfer of ownership actually pertains to a 2020 divorce filing with Rennard, which was only recently re-filed to correct Haggis’ party role in the case, after he was originally misidentified in court papers, per court records. Haggis ultimately took out a $1 million lien in Rennard’s name to be paid to her—as well as the previous $700,000 Haggis owes the Dallas actress—upon sale of the property.

The seventh floor penthouse suite at 169 Mercer Street, located in the heart of New York’s SoHo district is valued at roughly $3.8 million, per a Zillow listing.

On Dec. 12, the case’s judge granted a pre-judgement restraint prohibiting Haggis from “transferring, selling, gifting, diverting, or otherwise disposing of or interfering with any property in or outside of New York in which he has any interest until final judgment is entered.”

Haggis’ last major major credit was screenwriting 2013’s romantic drama Third Person, starring Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody and James Franco. He remains the only screenwriter to ever bag back-to-back Oscars with Million Dollar Baby and Crash in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

The Academy Awards have yet to publicly address the ruling in Haggis’ civil sexual assault case. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski, however, have all had their membership revoked for criminal sexual misconduct.

Earlier this week, the city council of London, Ontario—Haggis’ hometown—voted to rename a park commemorating the disgraced screenwriter. The move caps a four-year effort by the city and community members to rename the park and distance itself from Haggis after Breest filed her case in 2017.

Haggis’ case, an outgrowth of the #MeToo era, had particularly garnered a significant amount of national media attention due to his status as a celebrity Scientology whistleblower. At trial, the Hollywood director attempted to argue that the Church of Scientology manufactured the civil sexual assault case against him as retribution for publicly defecting from the controversial religion in 2009.

His lawyers, however, ultimately struggled to prove a direct link between Scientology and the 2013 sexual assault involving Breest, despite witness testimony from prominent ex-Scientologists, actress Leah Remini and one-time church spokesperson Mike Rinder.

Breest, her attorneys, and the case’s four Jane Doe’s repeatedly denied having any affiliation with the Church of Scientology throughout the trial. The Church of Scientology also strongly disavowed Haggis’ claims regarding the religion’s involvement in the case in past statements made to The Daily Beast.

In June, Haggis was arrested in Italy when a British woman there alleged the Canadian-born director raped her “for days” at a hotel. Haggis spent 16 days detained in a hotel room on house arrest before an Italian judge dismissed the case. He denied the allegations.

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