Paul Haggis Set to Testify in New York Civil Rape Trial

The “Crash” director’s expected Wednesday appearance signals the case is rolling toward a conclusion

paul haggis
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Paul Haggis was expected to take the stand Wednesday in his own defense, a signal that the civil rape trial brought by former freelance publicist Haleigh Breest against the Oscar-winning “Crash” director is barreling toward a conclusion.

Haggis will take the stand after his ex-wife Deborah Rennard on Wednesday morning in New York, according to his lawyer, Seth Zuckerman.

Nearly two weeks of testimony have included multiple days with Breest on the stand, supporting witnesses who say they were also assaulted or aggressively pursued by the director, expert witness testimony and defense witnesses who suggested – without establishing a direct connection – that the Church of Scientology is somehow behind Breest’s quest for unspecified damages.

Though the judge explained to the jury last week that both parties agree that Breest is not a Scientologist – and she said from the stand that she was not being supported by the church in any way – Haggis’ team has continued to present its “circumstantial” Scientology defense.

Tuesday’s testimony included a friend of Breest’s who had a difficult time remembering details about their communications following the alleged 2013 assault at Haggis’ apartment after a movie premiere in Manhattan. Lisa Benson, a modeling agency executive, was subpoenaed by the defense, and testified that Breest seemed initially enthused about her encounter with Haggis, and the possibility for future ones.

“I think she was confused but also I think there was some sort of interest, too,” said Benson, who defense attorneys pointed out testified in 2020 that “I think she found him attractive.” She also said then that Breest had hoped she would see Haggis again, and was unhappy that he was responding to her messages.

Benson also said Tuesday that she would have remembered if Breest said she was raped. But when Breest lawyer Zoe Salzman had a chance to cross-examine Benson, at least one part of her story fell apart.

Salzman then produced Breest’s phone records from the time in question – with no calls to either of Benson’s numbers.

“That phone call you were talking about on direct,” Salzman said. “It didn’t happen?”

“I guess not.” Benson replied.

Testimony on Tuesday also included another woman who said Haggis made a pass at her, which she rebuffed with little incident – echoing the testimony of Monday witness Sarah McNally. Genevieve Barker testified via video from Australia, saying the two had a flirtatious friendship that he tried to take to the next level through kissing.

“I didn’t want to take it further physically,” Barker said. She told him she didn’t want that from him anymore, he laughed it off, and they continued the friendship, she said.

Jurors also heard from a back surgeon who did not treat Haggis, but said the disc surgery he had in late 2012 would’ve made it impossible to physically struggle with someone trying to stop an unwanted sexual encounter.

Breest first brought her lawsuit in 2017, claiming she was pressured up to Haggis’ apartment and raped. She testified last month that she didn’t go to police, choosing the civil courts instead so she could have more control over her case.