By Megan Poinski
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Vallario has been pursuing two legal careers, practicing law since the 1960s and making laws almost as long as a member of the House of Delegates.
Vallario is seeking a 10th term representing District 27A in southern Prince George’s County.
“I love the legislature,” Vallario said. “The legislative process is fascinating, and I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer to help the people.”
Vallario first went to Annapolis as a young attorney to work with clients. He said he was amazed at the flood of legislation, thousands of bills, proposed during the General Assembly.
Soon, Democrats in his district were looking for someone to fill an open seat. Vallario recalls with a laugh that he couldn’t tell them which precinct he lived in, but he took the challenge and ran for the House of Delegates in 1970. He lost that election by fewer than 200 votes.
Four years later, Vallario’s second try for a seat in the House of Delegates was successful, and he has not left.
Vallario has remained on the Judiciary Committee the whole time, and has been its chairman since 1993 — the longest serving chairman in Annapolis. This past year, and in earlier sessions, Vallario’s handling of the bills and witnesses before his committee have made him a target for people who believe he has single-handedly blocked key legislation.
During his tenure, Vallario has seen quite an evolution in state criminal law. Back in the 1970s, there was no such word as “carjacking,” he said. There were fewer laws dealing with domestic violence. Victims of crime had few rights when it came to the criminal trials of their attackers. Stalking was virtually unheard of.
Vallario has worked with all of those issues. He remembers working especially hard with the parents of murder victim Stephanie Roper on establishing more rights for victims of crime. As an attorney, Vallario uses the knowledge he gains from his legislative work on a daily basis.
“It’s like a refresher course in every subject,” Vallario said.
The way business is done in Annapolis has changed as well, Vallario said. When he first started in the House of Delegates, votes were taken by a show of hands. Vallario said this made it easy for delegates to stretch the truth and say they voted for something when they were actually voting against it, abstaining or absent. So votes were recorded in a roll call. Some people wanted those roll calls to be posted on the Internet, as final floor votes have been, and that happened earlier this year.
Vallario has won a score of elections in the last three decades — some them unopposed — but he and longtime legislative veteran Jim Proctor are being challenged in the primary by eight candidates Barry Adams, Percel Alston, Sheri Beach, Jeffrey Brockington, Russell Butler, Theron Green, Joe Harris and James Woods. The top two finishers will advance to the general election.