NEW YORK (AP) — Filmmaker Paul Haggis’ defense sought Friday to undermine the credibility of a publicist who accused him of rape, with his attorneys suggesting a whiff of romantic interest in communications that his accuser says were just professionally friendly gestures.
Cross-examining Haleigh Breest at the trial of her rape lawsuit, defense attorney Priya Chaudhry asked about her definition of flirtation, her emails regarding Haggis, even her penchant for exclamation points and signing emails with a warm “xx" or similar.
And the attorney asked whether Breest would flirt only with men to whom she was attracted.
“For the most part,” Breest said. “I think that on occasion, I’ve probably flirted with people where there’s no romantic interest, possibly.”
Breest has testified that she didn't flirt with and had no romantic feelings toward Haggis, and that she unequivocally told him as much when she agreed to a drink in his apartment after a 2013 movie premiere. She was working at the event, where the Oscar-winning “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby” screenwriter was a VIP guest.
She claims that he forced her to perform oral sex and raped her inside the apartment. Haggis says that what happened between them was consensual.
His attorney scrutinized Breest's drinking — she acknowledged she was “a bit drunk” that night but didn't tell Haggis so — and the publicist's prior interactions with the filmmaker.
They had crossed paths at premieres over about a year, and she had gotten his email address to invite him to another event.
She also wrote to him in October 2012 to say that “we miss seeing you” at premieres held by an organization for which she worked. She added some compliments on how a film project of his was coming together and asked how long he'd be at the shoot, in Italy.
“This is just you reaching out to say hello?” Chaudhry asked.
“It’s a touchpoint email,” said Breest, who had explained the term earlier as, essentially, staying in touch on her employer's behalf.
“And then you told him that you look forward to seeing him at something once he’s back in the city,” the attorney said. In the email exchange, Haggis replied that he'd be back in mid-December, and Breest responded with: “Awesome to hear! Looking forward to seeing you around the holidays, perfect time to get back to New York! Good luck with the shooting!!”
The Associated Press generally doesn't identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Breest has done.
Her lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
By JENNIFER PELTZ Associated Press
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.