Michele Hangley

Member since: Saturday, 29 December 2018
Last Visit: Never
First Name
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Common Pleas
Sitting Judge
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Ballot Position
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Bar Association Rating
Highly Recommended
Progressive Groups
Public Officials
News Papers
What has been the general nature of your practice?
For nearly twenty years, I have represented individuals, businesses, and government agencies in various kinds of civil litigation. In 2018, my most significant matter was successfully representing Governor Tom Wolf and other members of the Commonwealth’s Executive Branch in the Pennsylvania Congressional gerrymandering litigation. In recent years, I have also represented a newspaper in a libel case brought by a labor leader, a women’s health provider whose landlord tried to force it out of its building, attorneys and clients in legal malpractice cases, and parties to commercial disputes. My pro bono work has included representing immigrants seeking political asylum, pursuing a civil rights claim on behalf of a mentally ill prisoner who was badly beaten by prison guards, and helping a nonprofit home for medically fragile children defend itself against litigation.

I have also served two three-year terms as a Hearing Committee Member for the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, presiding over attorney disciplinary hearings. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Commerce Program has appointed me to act as a discovery master and as a receiver in contentious partnership disputes.
Why do you consider yourself qualified to be judge?
I’m a firm believer in the ability of the courts to advance equal opportunity for all. When I was a 16-year-old Philadelphia public school student, a judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas changed my life, and the lives of thousands of girls in the city, by ordering Central High School to open its doors to female students. I and five other girls attended the school with a thousand boys. In my pro bono and volunteer work, I’ve tried to pay this experience forward by advancing equal rights for all.

I believe that I have demonstrated the qualities needed to make real and lasting improvements to the court system: the temperament to manage a courtroom with compassion, respect, and efficiency; a high level of legal ability and knowledge, as evidenced by my Highly Recommended rating from the Philadelphia Bar Association; and the courage to stand up to pressure and make unpopular decisions when justice requires it.
What is it about our criminal justice system that inspires you?
I’m inspired by all of the people who work every day to keep the system going and to improve it. Courthouse staff, judges, social workers, defense attorneys, and prosecutors, law enforcement, victims’ advocates – every day they hear heartbreaking stories, interact with deeply traumatized people, and face situations that often seem hopeless, all while handling a challenging workload. Nonetheless, the system is full of extraordinarily dedicated and competent people, many of whom are working to make real and lasting improvements.
What about our current criminal justice system do you believe needs to be reformed?
In the last few years, forces in the criminal justice system, including the Public Defender’s office, the District Attorney’s office, and the courts themselves, have made effective and admirable reform efforts. However, the system could still be improved in many ways. For example, I believe that structural flaws in the system – in particular, cash bail and excessively long periods of supervision with onerous terms – lead to too many people being incarcerated for too long, for reasons that have little connection with public safety or the public interest. Second, I believe the courts should improve and expand their diversion programs, and should better educate judges and court personnel on the resources for treatment and rehabilitation that do exist.
As a judge, what would your sentencing philosophy be?
In imposing any sentence, I would consider all of the relevant facts and circumstances, including, if appropriate, the possibility of alternative dispositions, substance abuse treatment, or mental health treatment. I believe that rehabilitation is the best outcome – both for individual defendants and for society as a whole – and that my sentences should advance that goal.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night thinking about a case and wishing you had handled something differently? If so, please describe one situation.
I tell the younger lawyers I mentor that if you make a mistake, you shouldn’t lie awake regretting it – you should acknowledge it right away and start figuring out how to fix it. I think that principle is even more important for judges. With people’s lives and liberty at stake, a judge should be willing and able to acknowledge her own errors and do what she can to correct them.
Who are your role models and why?
One of my role models is The Honorable William Marutani, who was the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge who ordered the Philadelphia School District to admit female students to Central High School. Judge Marutani went from confinement in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, to service in the U.S. armed forces, to participating in civil rights drives in the South in the early 1960s. I admire him not only because he came down on the side of equal rights in the Central case, but because of how he did it. His opinion was precise, careful, and thorough. His logic was compelling – indeed, the School District chose not to appeal – but he did not belittle the concerns of those opposed to ending Central’s all-boys status. I believe that a ruling that reached the same result, but seemed unfair or one-sided, would have fanned the flames and made the situation worse for all involved. From this, I learned first hand that a judge’s appearance of fairness and impartiality is more than just a good in itself; it has a concrete, positive effect on the way that litigants and the public respond to the judge’s decisions.
What is your favorite book, movie, or tv show of all time and why did it speak to you so much?
I could never choose just one.
Name a song that you were obsessed with as a teenager.
Kate Bush, "Cloudbusting"
What is you favorite number?
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