Maryland Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. said this week that his campaign committee has repeatedly misidentified the source of a $50,000 loan it received in 2009, which as recently as January was reported as coming from his law practice’s escrow account.
When asked about the loan this week, Vallario (D-Prince George’s) said he was “shocked” to learn that it had been listed that way on his campaign finance forms over the past four years and that it actually came from his personal funds. Escrow accounts typically hold clients’ money, and states place tight restrictions on how the funds can be spent. Misuse of an escrow account can lead to disbarment or legal action against a lawyer.
“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.
As evidence that it was a personal loan to his campaign, he stressed that when the $50,000 loan was first reported in 2010, his campaign categorized it on the reporting form as a “candidate loan,” rather than coming from an outside source.
Vallario told The Washington Post that his campaign has yet to repay the loan and offered no timetable for when it might. The loan was solicited in late 2009 because, Vallario said, he “was going into a campaign” and “had to spend a lot of money.”
Under state elections law, a campaign’s chairman and treasurer are ultimately responsible for ensuring the accuracy of a campaign committee’s disclosure reports to the Board of Elections. Vallario’s committee lists the candidate’s wife, Mary T. Vallario, as the campaign chairman. Barbara J. Proden, a longtime secretary in Vallario’s law practice, is listed as the treasurer.
The ethics complaint against Vallario, filed in April, centers on a bill passed in 2011 intended to make it easier to prosecute vehicular manslaughter cases.
Henry, the Prince George’s woman whose daughter was killed in a hit-and-run involving an SUV, said that in advocating for the legislation, she told Vallario many details about her daughter’s 2010 death that she never would have had she known that his son would represent the driver.
Vallario has said he did nothing wrong. He told The Post last month that he and his son maintain separate law practices and that he was not involved in the defense of the driver.
Vallario’s law practice is often referred to as Vallario & Collins, but Vallario has said that Vallario & Collins is not a formal entity. Several lawyers who work out of the same office as Vallario, including his son, use the Vallario & Collins letterhead, Vallario said. And the practice, he said, maintains an escrow account in the name of Vallario & Collins.
After meeting in closed session for 40 minutes Wednesday, members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics declined to publicly discuss the status of the deliberations. Neither Vallario nor Henry was asked to appear before the committee.