Higgins bargain appalling

Many Bedford County residents no doubt shook their head in disgust upon learning that former District Attorney William Higgins apparently won’t spend even a minute in jail in connection with the 31 misdemeanor charges to which he pleaded guilty last week.

Those charges involve obstruction of law, official oppression, recklessly endangering another person, intimidation of a witness and hindering prosecution — misconduct tied to obtaining sexual favors.

Here is a man who, in his prosecutorial role, had a hand in the jailing of many individuals guilty of fewer and far less serious crimes than his own, but won’t face the hard hammer of the law in the way he advocated for others.

While it never seemed likely that Higgins would be sentenced to the maximum 62 years of prison time for which he is eligible, based on his charges, right-thinking county residents expected that he would be required to spend at least a year or two behind bars.

Instead, thanks to the commonwealth offering an anemic plea bargain that Higgins felt he couldn’t refuse, the former DA will escape a fate like he so many times sought aggressively for others.

Steven Passarello, Higgins’ attorney, said in the aftermath of the guilty plea that the “firm” plea-bargain agreement between the former DA and the commonwealth guarantees no jail time and no filing of felony charges. However, if there were wiggle room within that agreement, it would seem that the county court would have been justified taking a hard look at what was agreed upon and making some adjustments based on the seriousness and impacts of Higgins’ crimes.

County President Judge Thomas Ling said that, prior to the Higgins case, he never had dealt with one with such implications to the criminal justice system. The judge also offered the opinion that years will be required for that justice system to regain the trust of the county’s people.

It also will take years for Bedford County residents to regain confidence that all of those found guilty of crimes are treated even-handedly — that some of the guilty aren’t escaping their deserved punishment based on their names or their standing in the community.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office was involved in the well-conducted investigation that produced Higgins’ arrest, nonetheless merits some degree of criticism for being less than forthright when asked about the fate of Higgins’ law license and pension.

Those two decisions will rest with the state Supreme Court and the state retirement system, not the AG’s office.

Passarello said Higgins’ plea is aimed at ending the county’s and his family’s ordeal. That might be true.

However, it also can be assumed that another big reason for Higgins’ plea is the well-being of Higgins himself. The former DA no doubt fears spending time behind bars with the possibility of encountering individuals whom he had a hand in jailing.

No one who has violated his or her oath of office and the public’s trust so egregiously deserves the kind of treatment that’s on the table for Higgins.

It’s going to take awhile for county residents to stop shaking their heads over what they’re currently witnessing.

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