Protestors and Mount Desert Island residents Amy Trafton, at far right, Courtney Imken, at far left, and a woman who asked only to be identified as Carolyn M. chat Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, while standing across the street from Leonard Leo's house in Northeast Harbor. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

A protestor accused of cursing at a man who many say is responsible for getting anti-abortion judges appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court was arrested Sunday evening in Northeast Harbor.

Eli Durand-McDonnell, 23, of Bar Harbor was with other protestors outside Leonard Leo’s home when he was arrested by the Mount Desert Police Department on a charge of disorderly conduct. Leo, a summer resident of Northeast Harbor in the town of Mount Desert, is co-chair of the conservative Federalist Society, which has sought to have conservative judges appointed to the Supreme Court, in part to remove federal protections for the right to abortion.

Leo, who spearheaded lobbying campaigns to have John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, was described in a 2019 Washington Post story as “the maestro of a network of interlocking nonprofits working on media campaigns and other initiatives to sway lawmakers by generating public support for conservative judges.”

There have been periodic protests outside Leo’s home since he purchased it in 2018, including a protest in August 2019 when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins attended a campaign fundraiser there.

The protests have gotten more heated in the past month, since the court voted on June 24 to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court decision that guaranteed the right to abortion.

James Willis, chief of the Mount Desert Police Department said that people have a right to protest outside Leo’s home in an orderly manner but Durand-McDonnell’s alleged behavior crossed the line into disorderly conduct.

According to state law, one example of disorderly conduct is when someone “knowingly accosts, insults, taunts or challenges any person with offensive, derisive or annoying words, or by gestures or other physical conduct.”

According to people familiar with his arrest, Durand-McDonnell is accused of cursing at Leo in downtown Northeast Harbor earlier in the day.

Leo said Monday afternoon that his daughter was the subject of Durand-McDonnell’s comments.

“Durand-McDonnell verbally attacked and threatened my 11-year-old daughter,” Leo said.  “His arrest is not about engaging in peaceful protest or just for insulting me. You can peacefully disagree with my beliefs, but verbally assaulting young children is not a First Amendment right and breaks the law.”

Because Willis didn’t go into specifics about what Durand-McDonnell allegedly did, Leo’s version of the events could not be confirmed.

“It’s very much still under investigation,” Willis said.

Durand-McDonnell was taken Sunday evening to Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth, but was released a few hours later on $60 bail.

On Monday, he disputed Leo’s accusation that he directed his comments to Leo’s daughter.

“I did not and would not verbally attack a young child,” Durand-McDonnell said.

Willis said that the protests at Leo’s house have been relatively uneventful, from a law enforcement perspective, and that Durand-McDonnell’s arrest was an isolated incident.

“We certainly want people to be able to exercise their right to peaceful protest,” Willis said.

Late Monday afternoon, roughly half a dozen people were exercising that right outside Leo’s house.

In front of a fence on Leo’s property line, hanging from a short pole mounted on a tree, was a light blue flag depicting the Virgin Mary. Across the street, gathered around a folding table with flyers on it, was a handful of protestors. Next to them, leaning against a tree was a large sign with a photo of Leo that said he is “directly responsible for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the erosion of your reproductive rights.”

Amy Trafton of Tremont was with the group, who held other handwritten signs and occasionally banged a pot as people drove by. She said she was there when Durand-McDonnell was arrested on Sunday, which she described as “awful.” Trafton did not witness his alleged comments to Leo.

She has been coming to protest outside Leo’s house twice a week since the court’s June 24 ruling, and at times has been among two dozen protestors standing along the street.

“He’s affecting the lives of these young people for years to come,” Trafton said of Leo.

 ”It needs to be exposed and stopped.”

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....