Paul Haggis may invoke Scientology in defense of rape, judge rules

Paul Haggis may invoke Scientology in defense of rape, judge rules

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A judge ruled Friday that director Paul Haggis can argue in his upcoming civil trial that the Church of Scientology is behind a rape charge against him.

Haggis is accused of raping publicist Haleigh Breest after a New York premiere in January 2013. She indicted him in 2017 and the case will go to trial next month. Haggis has claimed that the meeting was consensual and that the rape charge was in retaliation for his decision to leave the church and become an outspoken critic of it.

Breest’s lawyers tried to dissuade Haggis from pursuing that defense during the trial, saying it is nothing more than “speculative fantasy,” and that Breest and her other witnesses have no connection to the church. But her ruling on Friday, Judge Sabrina Kraus allowed Haggis to put forward the theory.

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“The jury has a right to be informed of any motive the plaintiff may have and the Church’s efforts to discredit Haggis,” Kraus wrote. “Haggis should be given the opportunity to present evidence that will show that the church was in fact trying to embroil Haggis in devastating, false accusations about women prior to Breest’s allegations here.”

The ruling means the Church of Scientology will be in dispute in two rape trials commencing next month. In Los Angeles, actor Danny Masterson faces three criminal charges for rape, which carry a possible life sentence. Masterson is a member of the Church and his prosecutors have filed a separate civil suit alleging the Church stalked and harassed them after they reported him to the LAPD. The judge in the criminal case has indicated that she will allow some discussion about Scientology, although the defense tries to limit this.

In the Haggis case, his lawyers say there is significant evidence that the church was looking for “dirt” on him before the rape charge was made. Haggis, an Oscar winner for writing and directing “Crash,” famously left the church in 2009 for her opposition to same-sex marriage.

He then referred to the church as a “cult” and participated in a New Yorker article that became the basis for the book “Going Clear” and the documentary of the same title. Haggis’ lawyers argue that the church views him in the same way as Iran’s Salman Rushdie. The lawyers also allege that church officials wanted to destroy Haggis with “ruining, false accusations about women” before the Breest lawsuit was filed.

“Haggis is no ordinary defendant in a civil case,” his lawyers wrote. “He is the most public enemy of a notorious, nefarious, powerful and well-funded institution known to destroy its adversaries.”

Breest’s lawyers have argued that the Scientology theory will distract the jury and cast a cloud over the case. “Haggis has not provided an ounce of evidence to support this fake story,” they argued.

Kraus also ruled on a number of other motions on Friday. She turned down Breest’s request to bring forward allegations that had surfaced against Haggis in Italy in June. Haggis was kept under house arrest for 16 days after a woman accused him of rape. However, an Italian judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to detain him.

“The allegations in that case have not been substantiated and were deemed insufficient to hold the defendant under arrest,” Kraus wrote, when he refused to allow Breest to introduce that evidence into her trial.

Breest may call three other ‘Jane Doe’ witnesses who have made separate allegations of sexual assault against Haggis. In that ruling, Kraus invoked a recent New York appeals ruling in the Harvey Weinstein criminal case, which confirmed the use of three such “prior evil deeds” witnesses.

Kraus also granted a plaintiff’s request to ban Haggis from discussing his finances at trial. Haggis has claimed that Breest’s allegations nearly bankrupted him by making it impossible for him to work and forcing him to spend millions on lawyers.

Update: The Church of Scientology issued a statement following the judge’s ruling.

THE CHURCH HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CLAIMS AGAINST HAGGIS AND HAS ANY CONNECTION WITH ITS PROMPSthe church said.

The church also called Haggis a “swindler” and said he had “conspired with anti-Scientologists to disgrace his own accusers by ‘accusing’ them of making their claims on behalf of the Church of Scientology.”

The church also disputed Haggis’ claims about his reasons for leaving the church, noting that the church took no position on Proposition 8, California’s 2008 ballot measure temporarily banning same-sex marriage. A church spokesman said Haggis was engaged in a “sham” of the church.

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