Former Bucks County district attorney Michelle Henry became Pennsylvania’s acting attorney general Tuesday when former AG Josh Shapiro took the oath of office to become governor.
Henry is expected to be nominated to fill the remaining two years of his term, pending confirmation by the state Senate.
Prior to Tuesday, Henry had served as the first deputy attorney general since the start of Shapiro’s time as the state’s top law enforcement official. She oversaw all legal matters and cases and operations of the office as first deputy.
Henry worked her way up from a line prosecutor to being the top non-elected official at the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office before being tapped to fill the top seat for a short period of time after former District Attorney Diane Gibbons became a Court of Common Pleas judge. She then returned to serving as first assistant through District Attorney David Heckler’s term and the opening months of current Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub’s time leading the office.
Those in Bucks County who know Henry have spoken highly of her and her skills as a prosecutor.
Weintraub, who has known Henry for more than 20 years and stays in touch with her, thinks Henry will do well as attorney general.
“Michelle and I, our work history goes back a quarter of a century in one form or another. She was a fantastic teammate and she always did the right things for the right reasons,” he said. “She was always there to pick up a colleague.”
The sitting district attorney called Henry a “fearless” prosecutor who would “always take the most difficult cases.”
“Michelle was fearless and led by example. She could always convince you were worthy of doing the same,” Weintraub said.
“I think she is an excellent and obvious choice for attorney general. If you have someone of Michelle’s character, you have an obvious choice,” Weintraub noted.
In a KYW Newsradio interview last week, Shapiro said Henry was prepared to lead the attorney general’s office and was a fine first deputy.
Sara Webster, a criminal defense attorney in Bucks County, said Henry has a reputation of being “reliable and honest.”
She felt Shapiro made a good choice in picking Henry to lead the office.
“This job will be a welcome use of her talents,” she said.
The attorney general’s office didn’t put Henry up for an interview.
Several local law enforcement officers and attorneys have spoken in recent weeks about their positive thoughts on Henry, but some noted she seemed to enjoy being a prosecutor who didn’t want much attention. The attorney general’s job comes with an increased spotlight, a security detail and her name installed across office facilities and letterheads statewide.
While Henry was a top prosecutor in Bucks County, she was loaned to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, along with prosecutor Antonetta Stancu, to assist in the case against against former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was convicted and sentenced to prison.
If confirmed by the Senate, Henry will be only the fourth woman to hold the attorney general’s job.
Henry is a native of Greensburg, Westmoreland County, and a graduate of Allegheny College and Widener University School of Law.
During her 21-year career in Bucks County, Henry prosecuted homicide, child abuse, robbery, burglary and drug cases. She re-tried Richard Laird for first-degree murder after his original conviction and death sentence in a 1987 Bristol Township murder was overturned by a judge and helped lead the law enforcement community through the death of Middletown Township Police Department Detective Christopher Jones.
Henry played a key role in the founding and development of the Children’s Advocacy Center while she was the district attorney for Bucks County. The nonprofit organization collaborates with local law enforcement, victims’ advocates and medical facilities to look into and treat children who have experienced physical or sexual abuse. The main objective of the center is to lessen the trauma that kids experience when they interact with the legal system.
Webster, who started her career as a prosecutor in Bucks County, noted that the county district attorney’s office and public defender’s office in recent years have turned out many high-quality female attorneys.
“They have produced a lot of solid women,” she said of her peers in the legal field.