During her senior year at Warwick High School, Heather Adams took a class called “American Political Behavior,” in which students studied the Constitution and early U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
“I really liked that,” Adams said. “There was something about reading an opinion and figuring out why the justices ruled the way they did that really attracted me.”
That burgeoning legal interest spawned a 20-year career that has seen both sides of the courtroom and is now culminating in a run for district attorney.
Adams, 47, a local defense attorney, secured the Republican nomination for the county’s top law enforcement position. She lives in Lititz with her husband, John Brumbaugh, and their 7-year-old son, Tucker.
Not only would Adams be the first female district attorney in Lancaster County history if elected, she would also be the first elected from outside the district attorney’s office in more than 80 years, according to newspaper records.
That outsider status was something she thought the office needed and was a factor in her decision to run. After hearing that some potential candidates would not be running, she decided to throw her hat in the ring.
“I felt really strongly that someone from outside the office should go into that office for this particular election cycle,” she said.
Though she hasn’t worked in the Lancaster County District Attorney’s office, she’s no stranger to the legal community or prosecution.
After leaving Warwick, Adams graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Millersville University.
“With a political science degree, you’re either going to be on the campaign side or you’re going to go to law school,” she said. “That’s kind of how I felt my options were.”
Working on campaigns didn’t interest her, and neither did moving to D.C.
So in 1994, she started at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg. After graduating in 1997, she returned to Lancaster County to take a clerkship with Judge James P. Cullen.
“I was very fortunate that I got to see a little bit of everything, and he wanted his clerks in the courtroom as much as possible to learn,” Adams said.
Through that experience, she was able to witness criminal trials and decided she wanted to be a prosecutor. From there, she moved to the York County District Attorney’s Office, where she worked as an assistant district attorney, and eventually to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, where she spent the bulk of her career fighting drug crimes.
“She’s not a showboat; she’s very professional and straightforward,” said William C. Costopoulos, a Cumberland County defense attorney who argued against Adams during her time in the attorney general’s office.
Costopoulos said her effectiveness as a prosecutor came from her credibility, which is important in a courtroom.
Adams worked primarily under former Gov. Tom Corbett, who was attorney general at the time.
“She put in a lot of work, a lot of overtime,” said Corbett, who has endorsed her. “I know the job of a DA, and I think she would be a good prosecutor.”
With the arrival of her son, and the arrival of Kathleen Kane as attorney general, Adams decided it was time for a change.
She took a job in 2014 with Pyfer, Reese, Straub, Gray & Farhat PC, a Lancaster firm, and since then has been on the other side of the courtroom, defending those accused of crimes rather than putting them on trial.
“(The partners) were very well impressed with her credentials and continue to be impressed,” Gabriella Farhat, managing partner at Adams’ law firm, said. “Overall, she is a fair-minded individual. She’s competent. She’s hardworking. She’s detail-oriented.”
As district attorney, Adams said she would like to implement a formal training program for the green ADAs, as she had in York County. She also would like to explore ways to address school safety — mentioning a program in Berks County that brought school staff and police together — as well as combating mental health issues and opioid addiction.
Adams said she feels her dual perspective on the criminal justice system will be a benefit to the office. In addition to seeing how other district attorney offices across the state operate while with the attorney general’s office and in York, she also has had the opportunity to see the Lancaster district attorney’s office from the outside.
“So I think it gives me a more unique and informed perspective in this particular county for the issues that need to be touched on and improved,” she said. “The past five years while I’ve been here, I may have been a little critical of the office, not so much verbally, but from a former prosecutor’s perspective, not from a defense perspective. So I see certain things happen, and I say ‘Hmm, I wouldn’t have done it that way.’ ”