Director Paul Haggis appears in Italian court for sexual assault

The Briton who accused Canadian-born screenwriter and director Paul Haggis of two cases of sexual assault appeared before a judge at the courthouse in Brindisi, southern Italy, on Wednesday evening, where she was counter- interrogated for more than eight hours.

The woman, 28, Haggis, 59, and their lawyers attended the preliminary hearing, where preliminary evidence was presented so that a judge could decide whether to go ahead with a trial.

Haggis was arrested in Brindisi on June 19, four days after the woman was found wandering in a confused state at dawn at the city’s airport.

She reported Haggis for rape, underwent a physical exam at the hospital and spent nearly a week at an abuse shelter, police said.

Police told CBC News they flew to Brindisi to meet Haggis in the nearby tourist town of Ostuni in the heel-shaped region of Puglia.

The city hosted the Allora Film Festival which Haggis played a pivotal role in organizing and drawing celebrities such as Marisa Tomei, Jeremy Irons, Matt Dillon, Oliver Stone and others to attend.

Under house arrest

The woman and Haggis had met in late April at another film festival, police said, and had come to Ostuni hoping to work with him.

Instead, according to police, Haggis twice forced her to have non-consensual sex when they shared a guest room from June 12-15.

Haggis insists the sex was consensual.

« The young woman confirmed her accusation without hesitation or uncertainty, » Claudio Strata, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told reporters after Wednesday night’s closed-door hearing.

Strata said the lengthy hearing, which ended around midnight, exhausted its client.

Haggis’ lawyer Michele Laforgia told CBC News: ‘All parties were able to question her and in the end she was also questioned by the judge.

“In our opinion, the hearing confirmed that Mr. Haggis did not commit any sexual violence,” she added.

Laforgia told reporters Haggis took notes throughout the hearing as the woman was questioned.

Last week, Haggis appeared before the same judge in charge of preliminary investigations, Vilma Gilli, and told her version of events, which has not yet been made available to the plaintiff and her lawyer.

« We know absolutely nothing about the Haggis version, » Strata said. « We were only able to access the first archives of the complaint to the police, the medical certificates, the statements of the hotel staff. »

Laforgia said he asked Gilli a second time to release Haggis from house arrest, a decision he expects to make in the coming days.

Haggis is staying at a luxury farmhouse outside Ostuni where he can only see his family members and his legal team.

Gilli decided last week to keep him under house arrest, saying that, based on the woman’s testimony, Haggis had demonstrated an « absolute inability to control his instincts and renounce the inclinations of prevarication and domination ».

In her decision, she also cited an ongoing civil case involving a rape charge against Haggis in New York.

Publicist Haleigh Breest is suing Haggis for allegedly raping her after a film premiered in January 2013. That trial is due to start on October 11. Haggis called the case an attempted extortion.

Three other women in the United States have accused Haggis of sexual assault. Haggis says the meetings were consensual.

Haggis was born in London, Ontario, and began working in episodic television in Hollywood in the 1980s. He wrote and directed the 2004 Oscar-winning film Accidentand wrote the screenplay Million dollar baby also since 2004.


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