Paul Haggis allowed to invoke Scientology in rape defense, judge rules

A judge ruled Friday that director Paul Haggis will be allowed to argue at his upcoming civil trial that the Church of Scientology is behind the rape allegations against him.

Haggis is accused of raping publicist Haley Priest after the New York premiere in January 2013. She filed it in 2017, and the case is due to go to trial next month. Haggis claimed that the meeting was consensual, and that the rape accusation came in retaliation for his decision to leave the church and become an outspoken critic of it.

Brest’s lawyers sought to prevent Haggis from pursuing this defense at trial, saying it was nothing more than a “conjectural fantasy”, and that Brest and her other witnesses had nothing to do with the Church. But her ruling on Friday, Judge Sabrina Krause, allowed Hagee to put forward the theory.

“The jury is entitled to inform it of any possible motive the plaintiff may have and of the church’s efforts to discredit Haggis,” Krause wrote. “Haggis should have the opportunity to present evidence that would show that the Church was, in fact, seeking to implicate Haggis in destructive and false allegations about women prior to Brest’s allegations here.”

The ruling means the Church of Scientology will be the subject of contention in two rape trials set to begin next month. In Los Angeles, actor Danny Masterson faces three felony counts of rape, which carry a possible life sentence. Masterson is a member of the Church, and his accusers have filed a separate civil lawsuit alleging that the Church stalked and harassed them after they reported him to the Los Angeles Police. The judge in the criminal case indicated that she would allow some discussion of Scientology, although the defense seeks to limit it.

In Haggis’ case, his lawyers say there is significant evidence that the church was seeking to “find filth” before making the rape allegations. Haggis, who won an Academy Award for writing and directing “Crash,” became famous with the church in 2009 for its opposition to same-sex marriage.

He then called the church a cult, and co-authored a New Yorker article that became the basis for the book “Going Clear,” as well as the documentary of the same title. Haggis’ lawyers argue that the church views him the same way Iran views Salman Rushdie. Lawyers also claim that church agents were about to destroy Haggis with “destructive and false allegations about women” before the Brest lawsuit was filed.

His lawyers wrote, “Haggis is no ordinary defendant in a civil case.” “He is the most open enemy of a notorious, infamous, powerful and well-funded institution known for destroying its critics.”

Priest’s lawyers argued that Scientology’s theory would distract the jury and cloud the case. They argued that “Haggis has not provided a shred of evidence to support this false story.”

Krause also ruled on several other motions on Friday. It rejected Brest’s request to raise allegations that surfaced on Haggis in Italy in June. Haggis was held under house arrest for 16 days after a woman accused him of rape. But an Italian judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to continue his detention.

“The allegations in this case have not been substantiated, and were deemed insufficient to keep the defendant under arrest,” Krause wrote in her refusal to allow Priest to present that evidence at her trial.

Priest will be allowed to call three more Jane Doe witnesses who have raised separate sexual assault allegations against Haggis. In that ruling, Krause relied on a recent appeal ruling in New York in the Harvey Weinstein criminal case that upheld the use of three witnesses from “past misdeeds.”

Krause also agreed to the plaintiff’s request to prevent Haggis from raising his finances at trial. Haggis claimed that Priest’s allegations nearly went bankrupt by making it impossible for him to work and forcing him to spend millions on lawyers.

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