New York Supreme Court Denies Motion to Set Aside Rape Judgment Against Paul Haggis

In a victory for plaintiff Haleigh Breest and the principle that perpetrators of sexual assault must be held accountable, the New York State Supreme Court has denied Paul Haggis’ motion to set aside the jury verdict finding him civilly liable for raping Ms. Breest and to overturn the jury’s award of $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Haggis argued that the jury’s verdict should be set aside under CPLR §4404(a) because errors by the Court deprived him of a fair trial and, alternatively, that the jury’s $10 million damages award was excessive.

In denying Haggis’ motion in its entirety, the Court explained that judicial rulings are not prejudicial simply because they involve evidence of plaintiff’s guilt and noted that most of the Haggis’ motion “essentially seeks re-argument of prior issues which were briefed by counsel and determined by the Court.”

“The primary evidence in the case was the testimony of the Plaintiff and Defendant,” wrote the Court. “At the end of the day, the jury credited Plaintiff’s testimony, which described a forced and unwanted sexual assault and rape, and found Defendant’s version of a kittenish and flirtatious Betty Boop character, who bragged about her skills in fellatio, lacking in credibility.”

In upholding both the compensatory and punitive damages awarded by the jury after a 17-day trial, the Court regarded Ms. Breest’s “serious and long-lasting injuries” as well as comparable cases in which similar punitive damages were awarded.

“The #MeToo movement has significantly altered the public conscience on these issues in the years since it began in 2017,” the Court wrote in its opinion. “When most of the cases cited by Defendant were decided, the public, juries, and courts were much more likely to minimize the crime and the impact of rape. Insofar as the jury’s award in Ms. Breest’s case reflects the more enlightened collective views of today, it should not be disregarded or minimized.”

Ms. Breest is represented by ECBAWM partners Ilann M. Maazel and Zoe Salzman, who issued a joint statement. “We are pleased that Judge Kraus upheld the jury’s $10 million verdict in this case. The Judge correctly recognized that the jury’s verdict reflected how the #MeToo movement has significantly altered the public conscience about rape, and has even further validated the testimony of our brave client. This opinion is an important precedent for all survivors of sexual assault.” Jonathan Abady and Sara Luz Estela also represent Ms. Breest.


Gary Lawrence Murder Conviction Tossed Based on Brady Violations

Gary Lawrence, one of three young Black men wrongfully convicted in 1993 of the murder of Hofstra football coach Joseph Healy who then served over twenty-four years in prison, has just had his conviction overturned. With the help of ECBAWM, one of Mr. Lawrence’s co-defendants, Christopher Ellis, had his conviction overturned in 2021.

Relying on questionable and uncertain witness testimony and a coerced confession, a jury convicted Mr. Lawrence of murder and attempted robbery. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms totaling 32 ½ years to life imprisonment. The police developed at least 11 different leads in the case. Shockingly, they kept both the leads and the investigations into each of these leads secret from Mr. Lawrence and his co-defendants. These investigations included detailed notes and in some instances polygraph examination results.

After his arrest, Mr. Lawrence was questioned for approximately 19 hours without food, drink, or sleep. Ultimately the police were able to coerce a confession from Mr. Lawrence – but the facts as laid out in the statement did not match the facts of the murder.

“This Court finds that given the information contained in the memo book notes and the unnamed homicide file, the sheer volume thereof, the new suspects, potential witnesses, and leads contained therein, the undisclosed evidence is clearly material,” the Court explained in its ruling. “The Brady violations were substantial, and because of them the People failed to provide access to meaningful witnesses and information.”

“We are pleased that the Court vacated Gary’s unjust conviction,” said ECBAWM partner Ilann M. Maazel, counsel for Mr. Lawrence. “Gary served his complete sentence in prison and on parole and has been a solid citizen ever since he was released in 2015. He has always maintained his innocence for this horrible crime. He sends his condolences to the family of Mr. Healy for the unimaginable loss they have suffered.”

“Second Hofstra conviction in 1990 killing of assistant football coach overturned, court papers show,” Newsday