Paul Haggis testified Monday on his own behalf – the first time he’s spoken to the New York civil jury that will weigh whether to compensate a former events publicist who says the “Crash” director raped her in 2013 – and he barely got his first words out before an objection.
Asked by his own lawyer how he felt taking the stand, Haggis said: “I’m incredibly nervous, of course, and I’m very happy. Because for five years I’ve been unable to clear my name.”
Ilann Maazel, who is representing plaintiff Haleigh Breest, objected – but Judge Sabrina Kraus overruled her and the statement was allowed to stand, according to Deadline.
Haggis did not immediately discuss the allegations brought against him by former events publicist Haleigh Breest, who first filed the civil suit in 2017, or the four women who claimed they were assaulted in supporting testimony. Instead, he began what may be days of testimony about his longstanding feud with the Church of Scientology, according to the Associated Press.
The jury heard nearly two weeks of plaintiffs’ testimony in the civil trial being brought by Breest, a former freelance events publicist who said Haggis pressured her to go to his Manhattan apartment after a 2013 movie premiere and raped her. Though the judge explained to the jury that both parties agree that Breest is not a Scientologist – and she testified that she was not being supported by the church in any way – Haggis’ team has continued to present its Scientology defense.
Haggis, at times tearful on the stand Wednesday, admitted he had “a number of affairs” while married to Deborah Rennard from 1997-2010, when they separated.
“She’s been my best friend ever since,” Haggis said. “So few people stand up for you in situations like this.”
Haggis has not given his side of any of the encounters, though he has maintained that they were consensual. He also had yet to be cross-examined.
With the guidance of his lawyer, Haggis gave a detailed autobiographical account, including how he encountered Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s book “Dianetics” while a young man still living in Canada. He said over the years, he went through hundreds of hours of “auditing” sessions, and that his church handlers had pages of notes with folders stacked “to the ceiling.”
In that process, he said, church leaders focused on sexual behavior. He said he confessed everything, including trysts with women, which he said were always consensual.
“Did you ever reveal anything else regarding women?” asked his lawyer.
“There was nothing else to reveal,” he said, “other than sexual relationships.”
Haggis’ testimony was expected to resume Thursday.