Hollywood stars

Two Hollywood stars are accused of rape, but Scientology is also on trial

LOS ANGELES — A Hollywood star has claimed she was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape by police and prosecutors who are biased against her church.

Another Hollywood personality accused of rape claims it was started by members of a church he publicly renounced.

In either case, the Church in question is the Church of Scientology.

No matter what happens during the trials of former ‘That ’70s Show’ star Danny Masterson, who is accused of raping three women two decades ago, and Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis, accused of raped a publicist ten years ago, the spotlight is on the controversial church that has been embraced by some of Hollywood’s biggest names – and derided as a cult by famous defectors and others.

“This will not be a lawsuit against Scientology,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charlaine F. Olmedo warned during a preliminary hearing for Masterson, though she allowed the accusers to subpoena the church as the reason they waited to report the alleged rapes. .

Scientology was started in 1952 by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The religion affirms in its official statements of belief that man is an immortal spiritual being of unlimited abilities, and it offers, for a fee, one-on-one “auditions” and classes designed to help members achieve a “clear” spiritual state. “. He strongly opposes the science of psychiatry as “disastrous”.

Legal analysts said Scientology figures prominently in both proceedings.

“While it appears the judge is working hard to ensure this trial is not on the merits of Scientology, it is impossible for witnesses to tell their stories without reference to the church,” Sarah Krissoff said. , a senior New York defense official. attorney and former federal prosecutor who investigated sex trafficking and crimes against children. “Everything is inextricably linked.”

All three of Masterson’s accusers were Scientologists, and two testified that they were rebuffed when they told church officials that Masterson had raped them and that they had been subjected to harassment and other acts of abuse. retaliation after reporting the alleged assaults to the police.

“She told me not to use the word ‘rape,'” testified an accuser identified as Jane Doe #3, recounting a conversation she had two decades ago with the ethics officer of the Scientology Miranda Scoggins at the Church’s Celebrity Center International in Hollywood.

Image: Actor Danny Masterson stands with his attorneys as he is arraigned on three rape charges on September 18, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Actor Danny Masterson stands with his attorneys as he is arraigned on three rape charges in Los Angeles on September 18, 2020.Lucy Nicholson/AFP via Getty Images

The accuser said Scoggins told her: ‘I had done something to provoke him. … We are all responsible for the state in which we find ourselves.

There was no immediate response from a church spokesperson to the latest testimony. Scientology, whose famous devotees include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, has received ‘lots of bad press’ about ‘supposedly punishing and investigating those who leave the church’, the legal analyst says from NBC News, Danny Cevallos.

Two-time Oscar-winning Haggis’ attorney Priya Chaudhry said in her opening statement as the civil trial began in Manhattan that Haggis predicted in a 2011 interview with The New Yorker that executives of the church would try to “find soil”. on him for splitting from Scientology in 2009 over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Scientology is very successful in destroying its enemies without leaving a single footprint behind it,” Chaudhry told the court.

Which means Haggis will have to find fingerprints, legal analysts said.

“The success of this strategy really depends on what evidence Haggis has to support this argument,” Krissoff said. “He will have to demonstrate a very close link between his animosity towards the church and the allegations made against him. If he doesn’t, this strategy could be a distraction but not necessarily a defense against liability.

Image: From left, director Paul Haggis and his attorney, Priya Chaudhry, arrive at New York Supreme Court for his sexual assault case on October 17, 2022 in New York City.
Director Paul Haggis and his attorney, Priya Chaudhry, arrive at New York Supreme Court for his sexual assault case on October 17.Yuki Iwamura/AP

Both trials began this month, five years after multiple rape allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in 2017 sparked a tsunami of sexual misconduct complaints in Hollywood and helped fuel the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein was convicted of rape in 2020 and sentenced to 23 years in prison before being extradited from New York to Los Angeles. New York state’s highest court agreed in August to allow him to appeal the conviction. He is now on trial for assaulting five women from 2004 to 2013 – in a courtroom down the hall from where Masterson’s trial is taking place in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He pleaded not guilty.

The Manhattan courthouse where Haggis is on trial is adjacent to where a jury this month found Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey did not assault actor Anthony Rapp, who said he was 14 when Spacey l assaulted.

Haggis, who won screenplay Oscars for ‘Million Dollar Baby’ and ‘Crash’, is accused of raping publicist Haleigh Breest in 2013 when she was 26. He claims the sex was consensual.

Breest claimed in a 2017 lawsuit against Haggis that he lured her into his apartment and forced her to perform oral sex. Her decision prompted three other women to come forward with their own rape allegations against Haggis.

Haggis denied Breest’s rape allegation in a counter-complaint and accused her and her lawyer of trying to extort $9 million from him.

“You never know if [Breest] lying because of Scientology, to get his money or for some other reason,” Chaudhry told jurors. “But the evidence will show that she is lying.”

Breest’s attorney Zoe Salzman insisted Breest had “nothing to do with Scientology”.

“Scientology has nothing to do with this case,” said Salzman, who said Breest came forward after Haggis condemned Weinstein for going after actresses. “She decided she had to do something.”

In the Masterson case, he and his accusers are all current or former members of the Church of Scientology. One is his longtime ex-girlfriend.

He is accused of raping the women in his home from 2001 to 2003.

Masterson’s first attorney, Thomas Mesereau, insisted that police and prosecutors are pursuing him because he is a Scientologist. He also tried and failed to subpoena all communications between Masterson’s accusers and actor Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who has become an outspoken critic of the religion.

Masterson’s new attorney, Phillip Cohen, has taken a different approach, repeatedly stating that the case against Masterson has nothing to do with Scientology, even though a witness list is filled with current and former members, including including famous figures like Lisa Marie Presley, who is a friend of one of the accusers.

Instead, Cohen has signaled his intention to launch into a more traditional defense of his celebrity client.

“I think it’s prudent for Masterson’s defense attorney to focus the jury on the credibility of the accusers,” Krissoff said. “His job is to remove doubt from the accounts of the accusers. However, he must exercise caution, as juries are often rebuffed by open attacks on accusers.”

Masterson’s defense can also refrain from any mention of Scientology and still win, Cevallos said.

“In a sexual assault case, doing nothing and pretending the government failed to prove your case can be effective, because assault is often a ‘he said, she said’ case,” said said Cevallos.