Pittsburgh-area attorney Heather Heidelbaugh announced Tuesday that she will run for Pennsylvania Attorney General next year.
The Republican and former Allegheny County Councilor seeks to challenge Democratic incumbent Josh Shapiro, who she said is preoccupied with touting “headline-grabbing” cases — possibly in an effort to become governor of Pennsylvania.
As an example, Heidelbaugh, of Mt. Lebanon, cited the attorney general’s effort to reveal the names of all Roman Catholic clergy who were implicated in a scathing grand jury report on sexual abuse of children. The report, which identified over 300 predator clergy and enablers, garnered international attention following its release in August 2018.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court barred the publication of 11 names, however, saying there was no way to ensure due process within the grand jury investigation. Heidelbaugh noted that prosecutors run that process, with no opportunity for the accused to mount a defense.
“It should not have been a situation where lawyers had to run to the Supreme Court to get redactions of names,” Heidelbaugh said. “There should have been a more orderly process so [that] people who are alleging that they’re going to be destroyed because it’s a one-sided process, they should have been given the time to be able to do that.”
The attorney general’s office argued, however, that releasing all names could lead more members of the public to report other prosecutable crimes.
Shapiro campaign spokesman Jay Howser added Tuesday that Shapiro “won’t make any apologies for [his administration’s] work to expose 301 predator priests and share the truths of more than 1,000 survivors whose abuse was covered up by the Church” over the course of decades.
Heidelbaugh nevertheless faulted Shapiro for prioritizing his political ambitions over the legal work of his office.
“It’s my understanding that he intends to run for governor [in 2022],” Heidelbaugh said. “And so if you look at the timeline, shortly after being elected [attorney general], he would begin almost immediately a run for governor.”
Howser, with the Shapiro campaign, disputed that characterization, however. In an email, he wrote, “Attorney General Shapiro will continue to focus on doing his job: battling the opioid, fentanyl and heroin crisis and working with law enforcement to keep us safe; taking on and winning the big fights to hold drug companies accountable and safeguard our health care.”
Heidelbaugh said she similarly would focus on helping people who struggle with substance use and mental illness to receive treatment and stay out of the criminal justice system.
Heidelbaugh’s late husband struggled with alcoholism, and the candidate said the experience gave her “a particular empathy for people who suffer from addiction. I don’t have a hardness in my heart for people who have these failures.”
“Somebody, I think, in a lead position in government has to take the bull by the horns and look at that,” Heidelbaugh said, “and bring together all the different sectors in our society that can try to tackle this issue.”
Heidelbaugh said, as attorney general, she would convene experts from across the state to develop a “compassionate” and “scientific” approach to addressing substance use. She also said there should be more accountability for drug manufacturers, pharmacies, and physicians who oversupply and over-prescribe pain medications.
“I want to see regulatory and perhaps criminal actions against these people,” she said, before adding, “I want to make sure that the actual people who suffered from this wrongdoing receive ... money” from pending lawsuits.
A trial attorney of 35 years, Heidelbaugh is a partner at the Pittsburgh law firm, Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl. She has represented individuals and businesses in a range of civil matters.
In a statement, her campaign highlighted her involvement in a campaign against the activist group ACORN amid allegations that it had committed vote fraud. Heidelbaugh herself testified before Congress during the controversy, citing allegations that The New York Times had killed a story about ACORN's ties to the Obama campaign. The paper pushed back against those allegations.
Heidelbaugh described herself as a conservative Republican who believes “in the rule of law, limited government,” and “the right to life.” She said she does not support the death penalty but that “it is the law of the land and, as the attorney general, I would follow the law of the land.”
According to her campaign, Heidelbaugh has been endorsed by Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
Candidates for attorney general must file petitions by February 18 of next year to appear on the April 28, 2020, primary ballot.
*This story was updated at 4:27 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, to include comments from Josh Shapiro’s campaign.