Higgins got off too easy
The old saying “poor guy” shouldn’t be used in reference to former Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins.
On Friday, Higgins received a criminal sentence that can be likened to a sweetheart deal, despite the multiple serious crimes to which the former DA pleaded guilty in May, some of which merited felony status but which were classified as misdemeanors instead.
Rather than being required to spend at least a few months, if not a couple of years, behind bars — the minimum punishment that he should have received, considering the severity of his crimes — Higgins, based on a misguided plea agreement that had the blessing of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, was handed a sentence requiring no jail time.
Rather than having to serve time in prison, Higgins was sentenced to eight years of probation, four months with an ankle bracelet, 1,125 hours of community service, a fine of $9,700 plus a requirement to undergo alcohol, sexual addiction and mental health counseling.
Numerous individuals whom Higgins prosecuted during his stint as DA received years-long prison sentences plus other penalties, based at least in part on Higgins’ recommendations.
Some of those defendants committed lesser crimes than those in which Higgins was involved.
When Higgins appeared before Bedford County President judge Thomas Ling on Friday, the former DA was met by a lack of backbone on the judge’s part.
Ling could have thrown out the plea bargain assembled by Shapiro and Higgins’ defense attorney, but he chose not to do so.
County residents’ and county law enforcement’s best interests would have been more responsibly served if Ling had rolled the proverbial dice on behalf of a tougher plea bargain or a trial.
Thus, Bedford County law enforcement and the county’s criminal justice system were victimized a second time. The first was during Higgins’ despicable, unlawful conduct that put the lives of law enforcement officers at risk.
Besides those officers’ lives, informants’ lives and possibly the lives of others also were endangered.
It can be said that those dangers possibly remain ongoing.
Higgins abused his important position in order to gain sexual favors from female drug dealers. He pursued overly lenient sentences for the dealers in question or helped some avoid arrest.
He also compromised identities of undercover informants, which, under the worst of circumstances, could have cost the informants and law enforcement officers their lives.
Still, Shapiro and Ling spared Higgins from the prison time he so much deserved.
That’s not to say that Higgins should have been sentenced to the 62 years of jail time for which he would have been eligible, had he been convicted at a trial. But even a sentence requiring him to spend only a few months or a couple of years in prison would have cemented the potent message that disgraced public officials deserve and receive no special consideration in Bedford County Court.
Rather than being party to what played out on Friday, Ling should have recused himself, based on his many prior courtroom interactions with Higgins, instead of presiding over a sentencing debacle that people of Bedford County didn’t want and do not deserve.
Friday was a travesty that people of the county will long remember.