Havre judge denies valve-turner Leonard Higgins' 'necessity defense' 

Leonard Higgins is preparing to go to prison. The wind dishevels his white hair as he talks about swinging by Deer Lodge between speaking engagements in Missoula and Bozeman this month, just to scope things out. He's already spoken with his partner back home in Corvallis, Ore., about how they'll stay in touch if he's incarcerated, about how often she'll be able to visit.

"I think the odds are against me," says Higgins, 65, "so I'm preparing for being convicted and serving whatever sentence the judge decrees."

Even so, this soft-spoken activist, who until last year balked at the thought of public speaking, isn't exactly giving up. Higgins committed to the possibility of jail time well before he broke into a Spectra Express Pipeline station south of Big Sandy last October and shut down the flow of oil. His actions aren't disputed in the case now headed to trial in Fort Benton on July 18, and he says he isn't shirking responsibility for his civil disobedience.

"There couldn't be anything further from the truth. I'm asking people and the court to step up alongside me to take responsibility for what's happening."

That's not how Judge Daniel Boucher viewed the situation in Chouteau County last month. On April 12, Boucher issued an order denying Higgins' request to present a necessity defense—an argument that Higgins' actions were necessitated by the immediate danger that climate change poses to his family, his friends, and every other human on earth. Boucher asserted that in attempting to enter such a defense, Higgins "cringes from the individual responsibility that historically accompanies protest and social change." And Boucher didn't stop there.

"It is clear from his memorandum that Higgins expects to attract publicity through his trial," Boucher wrote, "and in turn, to place U.S. energy policy on trial."

Higgins has already attracted a significant amount of publicity. He and several fellow valve-turners have spoken at universities and Unitarian fellowships along the West Coast, and are beginning an East Coast tour in early June. Higgins Skyped into a house party in Montreal in April, recently attended a direct action workshop in Bozeman, and has upcoming appearances in Whitefish and Missoula (the latter hosted by 350 Montana on May 13).

"I'm hoping to impart a sense of emergency, a sense of personal responsibility to respond," Higgins says.

Higgins and his legal team are also busy crafting an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, in the hopes that the justices will disagree with Boucher's assessment and allow his necessity defense to proceed. Without it, Higgins says, he's unsure how much latitude he'll have to explain the motivations for his actions.

"It's an act of desperation," he says. "I don't think that there's a direct cause and effect that my taking this action will carry the day, but it contributes, just as in other acts of civil resistance in other movements in the past.

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print

Tags: ,

Today | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun
Moscow Monday

Moscow Monday @ Montgomery Distillery

Mondays, 12 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation