UPDATED with afternoon session: A friend of Haleigh Breest’s who texted her in 2013 that filmmaker Paul Haggis had committed “borderline rape” against Breest dropped the “borderline” qualification in court on Thursday.
“This sounded to me like a non-consensual sexual assault that happened to my friend,” Lyudmila Bouzinova told jurors in Manhattan in Breest’s sexual assault civil case against Haggis, describing her memory today of what Breest told her almost 10 years ago in a flurry of phone calls the morning after the alleged assault.
Breest says that Haggis forced her into unprotected oral and vaginal sex inside his apartment in Soho on January 31, 2013 after they were both at a movie-screening party. She is suing him for unspecified damages. Haggis says the sex was consensual. Bouzinova, testifying by a live video link, said she no longer remembers details of the phone calls from Breest but said, “She explained that something bad that she did not want sexually happened to her in his apartment.”
“I definitely remember the tone of the calls as dire,” she said.
Lawyers for Breest and Haggis both have used texts between the two friends in the hours and days afterward to try to sway jurors. On Thursday, Bouzinova was asked to explain why she texted “LOL” to a Breest text about oral sex with Haggis, and why she wrote, “But don’t go home w men you aren’t dating when you’re drunky – pooh !!!”
Bouzinova said the LOL was an expression of shock. “I just didn’t know what to say,” she testified.
“But you wouldn’t use LOL if a person told you their parent died,” a lawyer for Haggis, Priya Chaudhry, asked her. She agreed she would not, but insisted the tone of the texts reflected the seriousness of the phone calls.
“And ‘drunky-pooh’ is your lighthearted, jokey way of saying ‘drunk’”? Chaudhry asked. Bouzinova said it was.
Chaudhry also confronted Bouzinova with testimony she gave in a 2020 deposition for Breest’s lawsuit about the very first call Breest placed to her.
“You testified you had no memory of Ms. Breest’s mood on that phone call,” Chaudhry said.
“If that’s in the deposition that’s true,” Bouzinova said.
Chaudhry also read back portions of the deposition where Bouzinova said, “I don’t recall the tone of her voice,” and “I don’t recall her mood.”
Breest and Bouzinova had been roommates in New York before 2013 and became “close” later on, Bouzinova testified. They weren’t each other’s best friends, she testified, but they have stayed in touch online and Breest was a guest and a speaker at Bouzinova’s wedding two years ago.
Questioned by Breest lawyer Zoe Salzman, Bouzinova said, “I don’t remember one call from another,” but remembers them collectively as an account of “what happened to her in Paul Haggis’ apartment, and it was bad.”
She said texts and messages from Breest, including one saying she felt like she wanted to see Haggis again, were her friend “freaking out” and “trying to reconcile” what had happened, and possibly suffering from Stockholm syndrome. In her replies, she said, “I was validating my friend’s feelings” and “saying whatever you feel is what you feel. I was trying to make her feel better.”
She was also urging Breest to stay away from Haggis. “Basically nothing good in my mind was going to come from being around him again,” Bouzinova testified.
PREVIOUSLY, 11:40 AM: A fourth Jane Doe testifying in the sexual assault civil trial of filmmaker Paul Haggis said Thursday that she was the target of an “attempted rape” by Haggis outside of her apartment building at night after an event at the Toronto Film Festival in 2015.
Jurors watched a videotaped deposition taken in 2019 of the woman, a freelance television and events producer who was working for a Canadian DJ when she was introduced to Haggis at a house party during the festival that September.
The woman, who Deadline is not identifying, said over the course of that day and the next, Haggis “relentlessly” pursued her sexually and ultimately tried to force himself on her as she fought him off and loudly and repeatedly screamed “stop.”
The assault ended, she said, when she screamed an expletive loudly enough to draw the attention of a passing stranger. Haggis then stepped back, she testified, realizing “he was going to be seen doing something very awful,” and in that pause she got into the lobby with her electronic key fob, leaving Haggis locked outside, and went to her apartment.
Her last sight of Haggis was of him through the glass doors, standing outside with his hands raised in a “come on” gesture. The woman did not report what happened to police but said she went into therapy soon after.
Later that night, she testified, Haggis texted her an invitation to breakfast at his hotel. She didn’t respond and took the invitation as Haggis “gaslighting what happened.”
“He was pretending as if he did nothing wrong,” the woman testified. She was asked on cross-examination by a Haggis lawyer, Priah Chaudhry, why she consented to join Haggis for lunch and wine earlier that day at his hotel, even though she said he was, by that time, already making her feel uncomfortable. The woman testified that she thought she was going to a “professional” 30-minute afternoon coffee and didn’t want to make an “enemy” of someone in her industry.
She was the fourth Jane Doe to come forward in the trial with an allegation against Haggis on behalf of Haleigh Breest, who is suing Haggis for unspecified damages. Breest, a publicist in New York, said that Haggis raped her at his apartment in Soho after a movie-screening party in 2013. Breest wrapped her testimony earlier this week.
The trial is in its seventh day. Before the last Jane Doe, jurors on Wednesday also heard from a work friend of Breest’s who said that Breest told her about the rape a week after it happened. The friend said that she asked Breest if she had gone to the police. “That’s something I would have done,” based on what Breest told her, the friend testified.
Also on Wednesday, a DNA expert for Breest’s legal team says she found DNA that probably belonged to Haggis inside the tights that Breest wore the night she says she was raped. She also testified that it’s possible the DNA she found didn’t come from seminal fluid. She also said the tights were not ripped, a detail that contradicts what Breest told another friend who testified this week.