Higgins destroys tenure

Upon resigning as Bedford County district attorney on Wednesday after being arraigned on 31 misdemeanor charges, William Higgins issued a statement saying he hopes he made a “positive difference” during his 14 years as a prosecutor.

While he had prosecutorial achievements about which he and other people of the county once were proud, the unconscionable conduct of which he now stands accused has destroyed whatever confidence and trust that most county residents had in his perceived talents and abilities.

On Wednesday, his 14 years as the county’s chief prosecutor became an anathema to the values and expectations of county residents, especially the voters who supported him during his election and re-election bids.

He has eroded the public’s faith in the county’s criminal justice system. The challenge for that system now is to properly determine Higgins’ innocence or guilt, so the process of restoring public confidence will not be inhibited.

As with others charged with violating a law or laws, Higgins must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It was not general public knowledge that Higgins was the target of a grand jury investigation, and it’s not too early to presume that a judge from outside Bedford County might have to preside over court proceedings tied to his criminal charges, since the now-former DA had such close workings with the local court system.

That observation isn’t meant to imply that a local judge can’t be trusted.

For county residents, there no doubt is extreme puzzlement over how an individual in such an important position of trust could allegedly stray so far from proper moral and legal conduct — and what initially caused him to stray.

Higgins, who allegedly traded favors for sex, is charged with 11 counts of obstruction of law enforcement, nine counts of intimidation of a witness, six counts of hindering prosecution, three counts of recklessly endangering another person and two counts of official oppression.

This is a man who attended church on Sundays, along with his family.

By some people, he was regarded as a pillar of the community.

Few could have imagined that Higgins ever would be accused of manipulating women with pending criminal cases, manipulating the justice system, thwarting drug investigations and offering lenient plea bargains.

In the course of the despicable conduct that’s alleged, Higgins also allegedly put the lives of police officers and confidential informants at risk by leaking their identities and details of their investigations to drug dealers.

It must be emphasized that the charges against Higgins are not based on allegations from one woman. Investigators said Wednesday that the case spans several years and involves a number of women.

On Wednesday, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, noting that the Higgins probe remains ongoing, urged anyone else who might have experienced wrongdoing by Higgins or who otherwise knows something that he or she wants to report should call 724-332-7252.

It’s important that, if Higgins indeed is guilty, the full range of his criminal misconduct must be exposed.

True, those with whom Higgins allegedly was involved might have been guilty of crimes, but they also became victims at his hands, if the charges are accurate.

The shock and dismay law-abiding residents of Bedford County are feeling is justified. It can be said that they, too, have been violated.

If guilt is proven, the former DA deserves no leniency during his sentencing.