After her daughter died, prosecutors told Henry that they would try to build a criminal case against the driver, but because of Maryland’s lax vehicular manslaughter laws, the charges would probably not be severe.
That’s why Henry was in Annapolis, telling her story to Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Vallario (D-Prince George’s), who is also a criminal defense attorney, had for years stood in the way of bills aimed at making it easier for prosecutors to get jail time for negligent drivers, arguing they criminalized what were often accidents. At a time “of unspeakable grief,” Henry was trying to change his mind — not for her daughter’s case, but for those like it in the future.
Weeks later, Henry almost fainted, she said, when prosecutors told her who was representing the driver who killed her daughter: Vallario’s son, who operates out of his father’s law office in Suitland.
The episode is now the subject of an ethics complaint, with Henry arguing that Vallario — whose roles as both legislator and defense lawyer have long drawn scrutiny in Annapolis — had an egregious conflict of interest.
Henry said she never would have shared as much information about her daughter’s death with the powerful lawmaker had she known his son would be attempting to win an acquittal for Christy Littleford, the driver of the SUV.
“He had the power to take any statements I made back to his firm, and his son could have [used] my words against me,” Henry says in the complaint pending before the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. “Delegate Vallario’s behavior is not only dubious, it is sleazy and unethical.”
In an interview, Vallario— who wound up voting for vehicular manslaughter legislation the same year he met with Henry — said he had done nothing wrong in his dealings with her. Although he and his son work out of the same sixth-floor suite of offices in Suitland, Vallario said they maintain separate law practices and he was not involved in Littleford’s defense.
“I have nothing at all to do with his business,” Vallario said of his 50-year-old son. “We don’t discuss cases, and we don’t share cases.”
Asked if he had relayed anything shared with him by Henry to his son, Vallario said: “I’m sure that never happened.”
He said had no recollection of even meeting Littleford. “I could not tell you if the defendant was white or African-American or weighed 100 pounds or 400 pounds,” Vallario said, adding that if they ever had bumped into one another in his law office, “she sure didn’t talk to me other than saying, ‘Hi.’ ”