“I was really surprised it was recorded that way,” said Vallario, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a criminal defense lawyer. “The money was my money. We’re not short $50,000 in the escrow account. . . .The debt is owed to me personally.” He said he plans to file an amended disclosure report.
Questions about the loan come as a legislative ethics committee in Annapolis is looking into a separate matter involving Vallario and his dual roles as a legislator and private lawyer. The committee met behind closed doors Wednesday about a complaint filed by a Prince George’s woman who questioned Vallario’s conduct on a 2011 bill strengthening vehicular manslaughter laws.
The woman, Kenniss Henry, whose daughter was killed in a hit-and-run, met privately with Vallario to lobby for the bill. She said she never would have told him the details of the case had she known that Vallario’s son, a lawyer who works out of his father’s office in Suitland, would end up representing the driver in court.
The $50,000 loan was made in December 2009, as Vallario was preparing to stand for reelection in 2010, according to reports his campaign committee has filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections. On six reports spanning four years, the source of the loan is listed as “Vallario & Collins Attorney Escrow Account.”
Vallario, whose law practice also includes personal-injury cases, said that he had earned the money from clients and that it was no longer part of his law practice’s escrow account.
Under most circumstances, borrowing money from an escrow account would be “regarded as a serious violation” of the profession’s rules of conduct and could be considered a criminal offense, said Douglas Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland who teaches a course on professional responsibilities.
“You cannot use money in an escrow for your own purposes . . . without the informed consent of the client,” said Colbert, who did not comment specifically on Vallario’s circumstances.
Vallario did not provide details about how he earned the $50,000 but said it came from multiple cases he handled. Funds placed in escrow at his practice, he said, come from clients who have retained him and from awards in personal-injury cases. In both scenarios, part of the money eventually becomes his, Vallario said.