Paul Haggis Rape Case Has Rocky Start in Court

Paul Haggis - Getty - H 2017
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On Dec. 15, writer-director Paul Haggis sued New York publicist Haleigh Breest for infliction of emotional distress after allegedly demanding a $9 million payment to remain silent about a sexual abuse claim. A few hours later that day, Breest brought her own lawsuit against Haggis alleging he raped her in his SoHo apartment in January 2013 following the premiere of Side Effects.

Breest's allegations made international news, but what no one seemed to notice at the time was that her attorneys at Emery Celli had somehow forgotten to actually include a cause of action for assault. Instead, Breest's complaint asserted just one claim and it was somewhat exotic, legally-speaking: that Haggis had committed a crime of violence motivated by gender. A few weeks later, Breest's complaint was amended to include the stories of three anonymous women who allegedly were also raped by Haggis.

That's the prelude to what happened in New York Supreme Court on Monday when the two sides again filed dueling motions.

Christine Lepera, Haggis' attorney, demanded that Breest's lawsuit be dismissed with the argument Breest hadn't adequately alleged facts supporting a crime of violence motivated by gender.

"Putting aside the purple prose and highly sensational conclusions in [Breest's] Original Complaint, [Breest] describes several acts that are of a voluntary nature," states the Haggis motion to dismiss. "While [Breest] claims she was allegedly forced to have sex following such voluntary acts, nothing in the complaint says precisely how she was allegedly forced. Further, nothing other than conclusory assertions in the Original Complaint alleged how [Haggis] supposedly had any animus or bias against women, a necessary element of the VGMVPA [Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Act]. Prior to Plaintiff's filing of the Original Complaint, Ms. Breest's counsel was advised of that fatal flaw in Plaintiff's threatened claim along with [Haggis'] vehement denial of [Breest's] story."

The motion could be mooted, though, because on the same day Lepera presented her argument, Breest's lawyers were attempting to amend her complaint once again — this time to add an assault and battery claim.

"The claim was inadvertently omitted," wrote lawyers Jonathan Abady, Ilann Maazel and Zoe Salzman, with no further explanation offered. It's up to New York Supreme Court Judge Robert Reed whether to permit the amendment. Usually, judges are lenient in this area, but Lepera could put up a fight.

Speaking of Lepera, she happens to be the same attorney who is at the forefront of another notable he-said, she-said case. That would be the one between pop singer Kesha Rose Sebert and producer Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald. That one also started with dueling lawsuits, with Kesha claiming rape and Dr. Luke claiming extortion.

Interestingly, the Haggis case and the Dr. Luke case are now intertwining in some respect because Kesha had her own gender-motivated hate crime claim rejected by a judge. Lepera was Dr. Luke's attorney in the battle — and she's now seizing upon the precedent for the Haggis case.

"There is very limited authority considering claims under section 8-904, despite its nearly 20-year existence," she writes in the dismissal motion. "In one of the few New York decisions to weigh in on whether a plaintiff sufficiently alleged a crime of violence motivated by gender, the court dismissed the action for failure to state facts demonstrating gender-based hostility. See Gottwald... First, the court recognized that '[e]very rape is not a gender-motivated hate crime."

Elsewhere in Haggis' new brief is an attempt to strike the allegations of the three "Jane Doe" women who are also accusing the director of rape. It's argued that the allegations are "inappropriately conclusory and vague" and don't give Haggis enough "notice and opportunity to properly address these extraordinarily damaging anonymous allegations made against him."

In other words, the judge must now address both proposed additions and subtractions to the complaint, not to mention whether consolidation of his lawsuit and her lawsuit is warranted.

The case is also going meta in a similar way that Kesha-Dr. Luke did.

"In this day and age, media reports can castigate a person and destroy his or her life and reputation on the sole basis of a single unproven accusation of sexual impropriety," wrote Lepera in the motion. "While injustices certainly exist and should be redressed, not all allegations are ipse dixit true. Indeed, Defendant fully expects that it will be reported in the press and by our adversary that Mr. Haggis should be ashamed for having the audacity to speak out and defend himself."

After the motion to dismiss was filed, Breest's attorney indeed told Page Six, "This is just another desperate attempt to prevent us from getting to the truth.”

UPDATE 2/1: Haggis' attorney has now responded to the proposed complaint adding an assault and battery claim. Lepera writes to the judge that the "new proposed cause of action does not even exist as pled," explaining that what Breest's lawyers are citing is actually a part of the law that spells out a statute of limitations for certain types of claims — not a cause of action in and of itself. "Plaintiff's effort to throw every shocking phrase against the wall does not a claim make," she adds.