Higgins lost the tools of his crimes

Editor’s note: The following is in response to the Mirror editorial on June 8.

As Attorney General of Pennsylvania, I’m often called upon to make difficult decisions in the course of doing my job for the people of our Commonwealth — protecting their health, safety and welfare.

That comes with the territory, and I embrace that responsibility every day.

One of those hard choices arose recently in the case of the now-former District Attorney of Bedford County, William Higgins.

For years, there were whispers in the criminal justice system and halls of the courthouse about District Attorney Higgins — rumors of criminal activity. Throughout the years, no one was able to bring criminal charges.

So Higgins remained in power, wielding control, having his way.

My Office of Attorney General didn’t look the other way when we heard about these stories; we confronted them.

Our prosecutors and the Pennsylvania State Police began an investigation, we brought the case to the grand jury, which reviewed evidence and heard witnesses, and we charged Higgins earlier this year with an array of crimes involving his protecting drug dealers from prosecution, revealing the identities of confidential informants to persons under investigation and offering favorable treatment to women with whom he was having sex.

This was a difficult case to investigate and charge.

Higgins was sophisticated in how he chose his victims. He chose women to prey upon who had troubled backgrounds and who would have presented challenges as witnesses during a trial.

Any trial presents risk and uncertainty. There are no guarantees.

When my office decided to enter a plea agreement with Higgins, there were several key factors:

1. We removed Higgins immediately from office as District Attorney – lifting the cloud of suspicion that hovered over the Bedford County justice system for far too long. Our goal was to begin restoring integrity at once to the Bedford County system; we did that.

2. By acting swiftly, my office ensured other arms of government could discipline Higgins as well. The public benefitsthat he accrued while in power — his pension and law license — may now be taken away, as they should be.

I understand the frustration of many in Bedford County, who believe Higgins should have faced a trial and potentially a jail sentence for his crimes.

I believe we had a larger duty to the people of Bedford County – to swiftly remove this criminal from their justice system, so the system could immediately start functioning again with its stability and integrity in place.

My office’s charges ensured Higgins lost the tools of his crimes — his elected position, his influence, his law license — and I stand by our work.

Josh Shapiro is the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.