Mt. Airy judge hopeful used to threats, controversy

by Len Lear
Posted 5/7/21

As a lawyer for Pennsylvania state and local election officials, Mt. Airy native Michele Hangley helped to ensure that Philadelphians’ votes were counted in the 2020 presidential election.

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Mt. Airy judge hopeful used to threats, controversy

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As a lawyer for Pennsylvania state and local election officials, Mt. Airy native Michele Hangley, 54, helped to ensure that Philadelphians’ votes were counted in the 2020 presidential election. For 20 years she has been with the Hangley Aronchick law firm, started by her father, William.

You don't have to be a political junkie to know that lawyers for Donald Trump and the Republican Party brought lawsuit after lawsuit in battleground states, including Pennsylvania, in a concerted attempt to overturn the results of the Presidential election, wasting time and taxpayers' money since every suit without merit had to be vigorously defended.

“It was definitely the most interesting year of my legal career,” said Hangley, who was the lead counsel for the state and the co-lead counsel (with Mark Aronchick) for the city. “We defended more than 20 lawsuits and won every one. It was a real roller coaster. I had a run-in with Corey Lewandowski (former campaign manager for Trump), who said I was keeping  their people from observing the vote count, which of course was not true.

“Then he put our firm's phone number and email address on Twitter. After that we got tens of thousands of emails and more than a thousand voice mails. I had to block the emails and shut down the voice mail. Many had vile language and threats. Every day they chose a new person to focus on. I can laugh now, but it was scary then. I moved into a hotel and sent my daughter to stay with my parents.

“After the first 20, I just deleted them. One said, 'I hope they drag you to jail by your hair.' I had to take down all social media, and the firm did, too. We all had to go underground a little bit. The city was great; they offered us police protection. Even now, I still get an occasional message that says, 'Why are you keeping Trump people from observing the vote count?'”

And as a lawyer for Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania election officials, Michele also helped to end Pennsylvania’s unfair Congressional gerrymandering. Now, she’s running in the May 18 Democratic primary election to serve as a judge on Common Pleas Court. Of the 16 candidates, eight of whom have been endorsed by the city's Democratic Party machine (not Michele), she is one of only five to receive the “Highly Recommended” Philadelphia Bar Association rating.

Michele is no stranger to public controversy. In September of 1983, when she was 16, a Common Pleas Court judge ordered Central High School to admit female students, and Michele was one of the first six girls to attend Central after 147 years as an all-boys school.

Formerly a student at Henry Elementary School and Masterman School, Michele  is featured in “No Girls Allowed,” a documentary about the Central High girls' experiences in the first year of integration. “We got horrible threats,” Michele said. “I had friends at Girls High who would no longer talk to me.”

After graduation from Central, Hangley majored in political science at Brown University. After graduation, she worked as a paralegal for seven years, followed by one year of traveling to 15 countries. “My favorite experience was trekking through the Himalayas in Nepal. Now I would be challenged to try to do it.”

Hangley then became a copy editor for magazines based in New York such as GQ, McCall's and Conde Nast Traveler before entering the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After graduation, she clerked for a Circuit Court Judge in Atlanta and returned to Philly after one year.

She worked for two years for the Dechert Law Firm, specializing in media law. She defended the Philadelphia Inquirer in six libel cases, winning five of them, although “juries do not like the press.”

Hangley's judicial candidacy has been endorsed by the Working Family Party, Reclaim Philadelphia, Neighborhood Network and every independent reform ward in the city (like the 9th in Chestnut Hill). 

According to Mt. Airy resident Ellie Seif, “I have known Michele for almost her entire life, and she is the kind of principled, smart, tireless and compassionate person we need in Philadelphia’s courts.”

Hangley will be number 11 out of the 16 Common Pleas Court candidates on the ballot. For more information, visit hangleyforjudge.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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