When Heather Heidelbaugh decided to run for attorney general of Pennsylvania, she counted the number of the commonwealth’s counties where she practiced law, in some way, such as trying a case, taking a deposition or interviewing a witness.
The total was 54 out of 67 counties.
Throughout the years, she also has earned a degree from the University of Missouri School of Law, founded the Republican National Lawyers Association’s Pittsburgh Chapter, spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference, served on Allegheny County Council and participated as a panelist on WQED’s public television show “4802.”
That experience has been a main emphasis of her message during the campaign in which she won the Republican Party nomination to face incumbent Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, in the general election.
“I can assure you that, as an attorney for 36 years, I’m a digger,” said Heidelbaugh during an interview at The Tribune-Democrat. “I want to know what the facts are and the information. I think people believe that I’m just using it as a campaign tactic that I’ve practiced law for 36 years and he hasn’t. But I think this is very important. It goes to the essence of who I am.
“I think like a lawyer. I behave like a lawyer. I investigate things. I’ve been a real lawyer.”
She added: “I feel that I truly understand how to practice law. I’ve had some very large cases. I’ve managed large cases. I’ve taught young lawyers.
“I’ve managed young lawyers.”
Heidelbaugh said, if elected, she would emphasize what she called the “traditional” role of the attorney general’s office. “The chief job of the attorney general is law enforcement in addition to, of course, making sure that we protect consumers and defend the commonwealth if the commonwealth is sued,” she said.
Race, law enforcement
Heidelbaugh discussed other subjects involving law and the attorney general’s office, including the commonwealth’s opioid epidemic; the reports that exposed child sexual abuse and coverup within Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses; and race relations following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
“George Floyd was murdered, and the person who murdered him should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Heidelbaugh said. “Americans are mad. Americans want to see changes.”
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The “vast majority of police officers engage in good policing,” Heidelbaugh said, but, when incidents do occur, that is a sign of the need for more training and better procedures.
“I don’t want to see in America a situation in which men and women who clearly put on a uniform and risk their lives are so demoralized that they don’t want to serve,” she said. “I very much reject this notion that all lawyers are bad, all doctors are bad, all newspaper men are bad. There are individual members of professions and their organizations who fail to do the right thing. And people should be mad about it, and it should be changed.”
Heidelbaugh addressed the state’s opioid epidemic in context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, offering anecdotal thoughts gleaned from conversations with district attorneys.
“A lot of them are telling me, since COVID, (opioid abuse) has dropped off and they’re having an increase in meth,” she said. “They think it’s directly related to COVID. … I don’t know if part of the federal effort on bad script writers, the pharmacies that were the mills, the doctors’ pain clinics, I don’t know if that’s finally starting to change the trajectory on the opioid crisis or not.”
Grand jury process
One of the most high-profile efforts by Shapiro’s office in recent years was the grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse throughout the Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Harrisburg dioceses. That report, in which more than 300 priests and religious leaders were accused of abuse, came after a similar finding was released about the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
Heidelbaugh said she would push to prosecute child abusers and anybody who protects them.
“Let me make this loud and clear, a pedophile involved with any child is horrible,” she said. “A pedophile engages in criminal conduct. Society has to deal with a pedophile. Anyone who would shelter or fail to discover a pedophile is also going to face criminal conduct. There will be no safe harbor under an administration which I lead.”
But she also called the report and the overall grand jury process “problematic.”
“Many of the reasons it needs to be reformed are based on what we saw out of the grand jury presentment when Mr. Shapiro announced,” Heidelbaugh said.
“Most of the grand jury report should be non-public if it does not indict individuals. The methodology in which he forced individuals to undertake rushing to the Supreme Court to get emergency orders on individuals that he intended to name and didn’t indict should not be repeated in the future.
“You have to, as a lawyer, as a public official, you have to do a grand jury about bad things the same way you do a grand jury about everything. While everyone hates pedophiles and everyone would hate someone who harbored a pedophile, you still must follow the law.”