Female lawmakers complain about Judiciary chairman
Joseph Vallario, they say, sets a tone of rudeness for the committee
By Peter Hermann and Julie Bykowicz Baltimore Sun reporters
March 12, 2010
Women lawmakers angrily protested Thursday to House Speaker Michael E. Busch about the way a committee that handles sensitive crime legislation treats those who come to Annapolis to testify. In particular, the head of the women's caucus said, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr.'s "tyrannical leadership" has become intolerable.
"He sets the tone for the committee," said Del. Sue Kullen, a Calvert CountyDemocrat and president of the Women Legislators of Maryland, which includes the General Assembly's 58 female lawmakers. "They do have the authority to kill bills, but they do not have the authority to ravage witnesses who come to testify." She said the "rude behavior reflects poorly on all of us" and sent a letter to Busch asking him to intervene.
Busch called Vallario, a fellow Democrat, "an outstanding chairman" who commands the respect of his committee, though he added that "there's no excuse ever for not treating citizens with respect."
He said he will arrange a meeting with Vallario, Kullen and other female legislators to work through the issues. Vallario said in an interview Thursday that he was eager for a meeting with the women's caucus "to see what I can do to relieve their concerns."
Under Vallario's leadership for 17 years, the Judiciary Committee has repeatedly been criticized by crime victims, police officers and women's advocates as too aggressive and unfriendly toward people who advocate for legislation in often lengthy and emotional hearings.
"It's a tough committee," said Vallario, a 73-year-old trial attorney, "because we have very tough questions. We deal with dynamite issues - sex offenders, gun laws, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, gangs." He said he lets everyone on his committee "speak their voice," though he allowed that "I could be a little more forceful in slowing them down."
More than half of the 24 Judiciary members are also members of the Maryland bar, and the lengthy hearings - the committee is debating 300 bills this year - can sometimes resemble court proceedings. At Thursday's hearing on gun bills, Del. Michael D. Smigiel, an Eastern Shore Republican and trial attorney, concluded his inquiry of a police official by saying, "No further questions."
At one committee hearing this session, delegates asked a rape victim who was promoting home invasion robbery legislation for more details about what happened to her. At another, Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat and practicing attorney, asked a panel - which included the mother of three children drowned by their father - a series of questions designed to showcase his opposition to legislation that would have eased the standard of proof in protective orders.
Kullen said the women's caucus was also upset by the committee's treatment of police officials who want to change the way traffic court cases are docketed by requiring offenders to request a trial rather than automatically assigning a court date.
Phil Hinkle, who as general counsel for the Calvert County Sheriff's Department keeps track of police-related legislation, said he has had numerous run-ins with Vallario. When he testified on the traffic bill, Vallario mocked it as nothing more than a burden on citizens.
"I know who is going to win, and it's not going to be me," Hinkle said later. "I was just trying to be respectful and make my point at the same time."
The women legislators' complaints come at a time when Vallario, a delegate for 35 years, is facing his first serious challenger in years.
Percel O. Alston, a retired 24-year veteran of the Prince George's County Police Department, has filed to run in September's Democratic primary. Alston, who has lived in Upper Marlboro for the past 20 years, comes with the support of police unions - he headed the Prince George's County Fraternal Order of Police for four years. He also has spent a good deal of time negotiating law enforcement labor contracts and writing legislation he has watched die in Vallario's committee.
In the election four years ago, Vallario, who serves in the southern Prince George's County and Calvert County district of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Del. James E. Proctor Jr., finished only about 1,500 votes ahead of Tamara Davis Brown, who spent $29,000 on the race and did not vigorously campaign.
Real campaigning won't get under way until after the legislative session ends, but records show Vallario has more than $126,000 in cash, compared with Alston's $25,000. "It's definitely David against Goliath," Alston said this week.
He said that when he told Vallario he had filed as a challenger, Vallario replied that "running against me is like me running against my daddy."
"It was very disrespectful," Alston said.
Vallario said he wasn't disrespectful to Alston, but "I also wasn't joyful."
"I'm not happy someone wants my job, no," he said. "I think I do a good job."
He called Alston "a Republican in a Democrat's coat." Alston registered as a Democrat in October 2008. His campaign manager said he'd been meaning to switch parties for a while.
"It's not just us in law enforcement that [Vallario] has worked against," Alston said. "But also a lot of victims-rights groups. It seems that a lot of legislation that affects him as a defense attorney is legislation he will oppose."
Over the years, Vallario has opposed efforts to broaden the definition of a "gang member" in a way that would trigger longer prison sentences, install ignition locks in the cars of more drunken drivers and add new gun laws.
In 2005, Vallario struck against an unusual alliance of a Republican governor and black ministers from Baltimore who wanted to allow witnesses intimidated by criminals to testify by written statement instead of in person. A version of the bill did pass - but the city's top prosecutor said it was so diluted she called it a "toothless tiger."
Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who has made gun crime a priority in a city that is among the most violent in the nation, complained in 2008 that Vallario treated him and other officers "pretty rudely" when they testified before his committee on tightening firearm legislation.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat who has served on Judiciary since 2003, said some delegates "have been disrespectful" to citizens and "can get into a cross-examination mode that I don't think is appropriate."
But she defended the chairman as a man committed to his job and to giving everyone - committee members and citizens alike - a chance to speak out.
Although witnesses are supposed to limit their comments to three minutes, Vallario almost always allows them to continue much longer. And he rarely leaves a committee hearing, even though they sometimes stretch for eight or more hours.
"I have nothing but respect for him," Dumais said. "I disagree with him plenty, but he has his opinion, and he rules the committee."
From the Gazette.net:
House Judiciary draws protests
Women's caucus complains of committee's treatment of witnesses
by Alan Brody | Staff writer
ANNAPOLIS — The House Judiciary Committee is under fire from lawmakers and advocates for perceived mistreatment of domestic violence victims and other witnesses who allegedly have been bullied and interrogated during bill hearings.
While the 22-member panel has long been regarded as one of the most probing and unbending in the General Assembly, numerous legislators are concerned that the committee has crossed the line several times this year and is now regarded as an unwelcome venue for members of the public.
"They're out of control," said Del. Sue Kullen, who chairs the Women Legislators of Maryland, which is known informally as the women's caucus.
She pointed to a bill hearing last month on legislation that proposed changing the standard of proof by which a protective order is issued as a prime example of the committee's mistreatment of witnesses.
Among those testifying was Dr. Amy Castillo, whose estranged husband drowned the couple's three young children at a Baltimore city hotel in March 2008.
Kullen (D-Dist. 27B) of Port Republic and others, including several Judiciary Committee members, said Castillo was virtually cross-examined and almost accused of lying to the panel, breaking an unwritten committee rule that victims are treated compassionately.
"There's a gentle way to get your point across, and I think we've lost our way," said Del. Susan K. McComas (R-Dist. 35B) of Bel Air, an attorney who has served on the committee since 2003.
Not everyone sees it the same way.
Many bills that come before the committee have wide-ranging impact on the rule of law, so members tend to be aggressive in their questioning of witnesses, said Del. Kevin Kelly (D-Dist. 1B) of Cumberland, who has served on the committee during his entire 20-year tenure in Annapolis.
"You've got to be very careful when you're making laws to try to separate emotion from the ramifications of implementation," he said.
The rigid approach should not be mistaken for disrespect, said House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Upper Marlboro.
"Our committee does not just sit back. They want to get into the merits," he said Thursday. "There are questions that need to be answered so we can make the proper decisions."
But Kullen delivered a letter Thursday to House Speaker Michael E. Busch on behalf of the women's caucus that outlines some of its concerns.
"The questions from certain members of the Judiciary Committee appear to be more of a ‘cross-examining, gotcha style' rather than respectful, information gathering questions," according to a copy of the letter that was obtained by The Gazette. "This is not to say that probing questions should not be asked. But the tone and style of some members of the Committee have been called sarcastic, rude and insulting, which is inappropriate."
Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis said earlier Thursday that he was aware of the concerns regarding the treatment of witnesses, particularly victims.
"Those people, in particular, should be treated with every courtesy and respect," he said.
Busch plans to schedule a meeting with the leadership of the women's caucus and the Judiciary Committee to discuss some of the concerns, said his spokeswoman, Alexandra Hughes.
Advocates who spend a lot of time before the General Assembly's law-and-order committees said members need to be particularly considerate of citizens who come before them.
"When you are dealing with issues of individual rights and liberties, you need to promote an air of openness and dialogue and respect to get the best public policy," said Lisae C. Jordan, legislative counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
At least one member of Judiciary agreed that there have been times when the committee has felt more like a courtroom than a legislative body.
"Probing questions are appropriate, but rudeness or sarcasm that can be cutting, I don't think there's a place for that," said Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Dist. 15) of Rockville.
One advocate who did not want to be named because bills are pending in the committee prepares witnesses for the tough questioning and warns victims that they open themselves up to intense grilling by committee members if they choose to testify. Some people refuse to appear before the panel, the advocate said.
Veteran lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano recalled that the Judiciary Committee has always had a tough-as-nails reputation, probably because the legal issues it considers have such a profound effect on society.
"When amending criminal law, you've got to look beyond just the bill itself," he said. "You're looking at the body of law for precedence, consistency and harmony. You don't have that in other subject areas."
Still, Kullen and others said if the committee is perceived poorly by the public, it reflects poorly on the entire legislature.
"We want to be seen as nothing less than respectful to the public," the letter to Busch from the women's caucus concludes. "We would appreciate anything that you can do."
Kojo Nnamdi of WAMU (88.5 FM - American University Radio, Washington, D.C.) had an excellent show this past Thursday featuring the continued discussion on Maryland H.B. 700. Delegate Sue Hecht, who submitted the bill, and Delegate Luiz Simmons, who attacked Amy Castillo during the hearing on the bill, were the guests.
Listen to it here. It is 27 minutes long.
During the show, Delegate Luiz Simmons explains that "only seven percent" of the Protective Orders that are heard in hearing are dismissed for not meeting the standard, being "frivolous" in nature. Only seven percent. A commenter wondered how many of those seven percent were murdered. I wonder that too. Delegate Simmons seems to be more concerned for the alleged batterers than the potential victims. He has shown this concern in previous legislation he has submitted, including a bill to expunge alleged domestic batterer's records that thankfully was defeated in the last session.
Delegate Simmons brags that the 15 delegates of the 21 voting members reach across a wide range of demographics, including two women of color, Democrats, Republicans, men of color, a Latino, etc. Yet Kojo questioned his rational of women supporting the issue when actually the majority of the women voted for the measure.
Eileen King of Justice For Children was also on the show, as she accompanied Amy Castillo to the February 25th hearing on the bill by the House Judiciary Committee. She pointed out that Amy was summarily dismissed by Delegate Simmons as not being credible based upon transcripts from her protective order hearing, where she was seeking protection from the husband that eventually killed all three of their children. Delegate Simmons made sure the whole room knew she wasn't credible then because she had to have sex with her husband the night of the threats against their lives (even though her children were killed). Kojo mentioned the sensational cases like this and what he viewed as the Committee's attempt to balance it out with all cases. I don't know what Delegate Simmon's denigration of Amy Castillo has to do with "balancing" this out. The fact is he went after it like a pig, and I don't think I am the only one thinking this.
Domestic Violence and Protective Orders in Maryland
Maryland lawmakers recently killed a bill that would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to receive a final protective order against their abusers. Supporters say the measure would bring Maryland in line with the rest of the country, but critics warn it could lead to a flood of false accusations. Join Kojo as we go inside the debate and hear about the latest legislative maneuvers on the issue.
Original story link here.
Member, Maryland House of Delegates (D-District 3A, Frederick County)
Delegate (D-17th Dist.), Maryland State House of Delegates
From The Washington Post:
AS EXPECTED, the Maryland House Judiciary Committee wrongly killed a bill on Thursday that would have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain protective orders. H.B. 700 would have brought Maryland into conformance with the practices of every other state in the country. As an election-year service to voters, here is the 15 to 6 vote:
Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) did not vote, as is the general practice.
Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore)
Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George's)
Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore)
Frank M. Conaway Jr. (D-Baltimore)
Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel)
William J. Frank (R-Baltimore County)
J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County)
Kevin Kelly (D-Allegany)
Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's)
Tony McConkey (R-Anne Arundel)
Victor R. Ramirez (D-Prince George's)
Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore)
Todd L. Schuler (D-Baltimore County)
Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery)
Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil).
Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery)
Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery)
Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery)
Susan McComas (R-Harford)
Kriselda Valderrama (D-Prince George's)
Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery)
From The Washington Post:
Thursday, March 4, 2010
MARYLAND once again has the chance to do what every other state in the country does in affording protections to victims of domestic abuse. A proposal that would relax the rigid standards for obtaining protective orders is being debated in the General Assembly. Unfortunately, its prospects are not good. We hope, though, that lawmakers wake up to the reality that their refusal to put in place common-sense safeguards endangers lives and makes Maryland a national disgrace.
The House and Senate are considering bills that would change the standard of proof needed to grant a final protective order. The bills, H.B. 700 by Del. C. Sue Hecht (D-Frederick) and S.B. 823 by Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery), would replace the current standard of "clear and convincing evidence" to a "preponderance of the evidence." Maryland is the only state that uses this higher standard when victims -- and generally they are women -- seek orders to protect themselves from their alleged abusers. In all other civil matters, Maryland courts require only a preponderance of evidence.
Contrary to the fears of some opponents, this would not open up the floodgates to capricious decisions based on false charges. Judges would still be able to judge the credibility of any claim, but they would have more discretion in reaching a decision. Instead of being bound by there being no doubt about a petitioner being in danger, the court would be able to use the more reasonable standard of there being a good chance of danger.
We can't help but wonder what the outcome might have been had this standard been available to the judge who denied the request for a protective order from Amy Castillo. Ms. Castillo's three children were drowned by a fatherwhose threats about killing the children were deemed insufficient for a protective order. Ms. Castillo evoked her tragedy last month as she testified for easier access to protective orders before the House Judiciary Committee, a body notoriously hostile to this and other reforms sought by advocates for victims of domestic violence.
The committee has scuttled similar bills in previous years, and judging by the reception it gave Ms. Castillo, chances don't seem much improved this year. What else to make of the argument that no problem exists because only (their emphasis) 14 percent of protective orders are denied because the standard of proof isn't met? That's not much of a consolation for Ms. Castillo or the others who make up that 14 percent. As Ms. Castillo told the committee: "When you're in fear of your life and for your children, and you make that move to step out and do something about it, and then you go to get a protective order, and you don't get it, it's just really devastating. . . . It's like a discouragement to make a change in your life that needs to be made."
A bill is in the Maryland Legislature now, HB 700 (Del Hecht, et al.), which seeks to alter the standard of proof for issuing a final protective order from clear and convincing evidence to a preponderance of the evidence. If a judge finds from the preponderance of the evidence that the alleged abuse has occurred, the judge may grant a final protective order for relief from abuse to any eligible person. It was first read to the Judiciary Committee on February 24th, and they had a hearing on it the 25th.
Amy Castillo testified at this hearing, as she tried to get a protective order in 2007, but was denied. Her husband Mark Castillo had their three children on visitation after when he murdered all three in a Maryland hotel, drowning them in the bathtub. At the protective order hearing, her husband’s lawyer questioned her (from the transcripts):
Douglas Cohn–Defense Attorney, Mark’s Attorney: “He threatened to kill your children and you, and you made love to him that night.”
Amy Castillo: “Yes, because I’m scared of him. If I act scared or upset or emotional, he really reacts to that, and I didn’t want him to know I was trying to get a protective order.”
With this, the judge denied the protective order. Judge Joseph Dugan ruled “There is not clear and convincing evidence that the alleged acts of abuse occurred.” This left Mark Castillo the opportunity to murder the children.
Fast forward to the hearing on February 25th, where witnesses testified to the committee about this travesty. Delegate Luiz Simmons took it upon himself during the hearing to further question Amy Castillo’s credibility because she had engaged in sex with Mark after being threatened. Apparently Del. Simmons does not realize that abusive men often center their lives around their genitals and the need to have them serviced. One can go on any of the many men’s rights forums and read them denigrating women, especially if they aren’t being serviced. This is one from “Men Going Their Own Way“:
“I was driving back from a meeting this morning, thinking about my wife, and I really wanted to go home, and simply beat the living shit out of her. I have been supporting everyone for years, working my ass off, and my wife has not done one single fucking thing to make my life easier, to encourage me, or to help me with anything that’s bugging me. She’s on the PTA, the board of her preschool, she teaches art at the elementary school, is involved in a book club, and on and on and on. Her calendar is ridiculous. But I am some kind of fucking afterthought. I’m the engine that powers this entire thing, and I haven’t gotten laid in months. She takes care of the children during the week, fine. But we have a housecleaner, because actually cleaning the fucking house is beneath her. We take shirts to the dry cleaner, because she couldn’t possibly iron them. Clean laundry is in piles in the garage, because she can’t be expected to fold it. On weekends, I’m apparently her assistant. I can’t wait for Sunday night to come, when I can get out and head back to the office. And every day there’s some new example of truly shitty behavior — a bad attitude for any human. For example, last night she was at her fucking PTA meeting, which ran from 7 until 11. I went to bed, and had just turned the light out when she shows up at the front door, and starts ringing the fucking doorbell. She didn’t have her keys. She then informed me that she never does. I pointed out that having keys to your own house might be a smart thing to do. And she acts like that’s some kind of major insult, and then launches into a description of what happened at this meeting. I stopped her, and said something like “You know, I was in bed and almost asleep, and you got me up.” It didn’t even occur to her that a) I would actually mind being jerked out of bed by the doorbell; b) I wasn’t interested in a blow-by-blow at that moment. Finally, after years of this, the truth is starting to sink in, and I’m devolving into this serious, angry person to be around. All the normal, considerate stuff I used to do I don’t. I don’t talk to her unless I have to, and not any longer than necessary. She catches me looking at her sometimes, and the expression she sees on my face frightens her, I think. Somewhere along in here, she’s going to ask me if something’s wrong, and I’m going to start screaming at her. I’ve tried marriage counseling. I’ve tried listening, and giving, and being nice. Now, I’m going to try fear and intimidation.”
Del. Luiz Simmons, Montgomery County
Do you think Amy Castillo saw that certain expression on Mark’s face (besides just outright being told he would kill her and the kids)? Do you think she had to have sex for her and her kid’s safety? You betcha. Nobody likes having sex with an abusive asshole. It’s like a submissive gesture to try and calm the savage beast. You don’t think she had to fake it (think Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally)? Many women have to given in to having sex to avoid being treated worse. But this pig thinks it makes her less credible. Del. Luiz Simmons and his John Edward’s haircut need to come out of the fog and look at all the children being murdered by fathers who are not happy with child support, not happy with shared parenting, or just want to punish their ex-wives by taking the children permanently from them (by murdering them). Over and over again, many of these horrific deaths of children can be traced back to a judge who wouldn’t issue a protective order.
Delegate Simmons demonstrated his love and wish to protect batterers in the last session. This is from Maryland Politics Watch:
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Luiz Simmons’ Abuser Expungement Bill (Updated)
Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17), who is a trial attorney, has introduced a bill enabling accused domestic abusers to expunge their court records. No, folks, we are not making this up.
This bill most likely won’t make it out of the committee, thanks to Delegate Simmons. If you are from Maryland, how many more women and children are you willing to see murdered? If you are from Maryland, you need to know who your employees are, the people you pay to speak for you, who are doing this to the children of Maryland, who questioned Amy Castillo’s credibility, and decide if you want them to work for you any more when you go vote in the next election. Here are the Judicial Committee members….do they work for you?
Appointed by House Speaker:
Joseph F. Vallario, Jr., Chair (410) 841-3488, (301) 858-3488
Samuel I. Rosenberg, Vice-Chair (410) 841-3297, (301) 858-3297
Updated: Friday, 26 Feb 2010, 12:26 PM EST
Published : Thursday, 25 Feb 2010, 7:15 PM EST
By Sherri Ly
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – When Amy Castillo’s husband, Mark, killed her three children nearly two years ago she knew he’d carried out his threat. “He said well really the worse thing I could do is kill the children and not you so you have to live without them,” Castillo said.
Fifteen months earlier she told a Montgomery County judge the same story but he denied her final protective order because there wasn’t “clear and convincing evidence.” Castillo says she was devastated.
The interim protective order had already angered her estranged husband, who suffered from mental illness and transcripts show had planned to violently end his own life. “I think he would have had to have hurt them before, in the past, actually physically injured them. All along I felt that you have to actually hurt someone or prove you sexually abused them before you can get any help,” Castillo said.
It’s happened over and over to victims of abuse in Maryland. Victims try to get a protective order only to be denied sometimes with deadly consequences. Yvette Cade, a Prince George’s County woman was burned four years ago by her ex-husband after a judge removed a protective order as well. In Castillo’s case she said, “It went from threats to now they’re dead. There wasn’t anything in between.”
So today Castillo went to Annapolis to fight for the protection her children six-year-old Anthony, four-year-old Austin and two-year-old Athena did not get. She testified during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in support of a bill that lowers the standard for protective orders to a “preponderance of evidence.”
Maryland is the only state that requires the standard of proof for a protective order be “clear and convincing evidence.”
At least three times previously, lawmakers in Annapolis have tried to lower this standard, making it easier for someone to get a protective order. Each time it failed.
“People are in dangerous situations and in Amy’s case, the dear children lost their lives because of our high standard of proof in Maryland. That’s unacceptable,” said Delegate Sue Hecht (D) Frederick County, the bill’s main sponsor.
Historically, the judiciary committee has been hesitant to change laws. It took Hecht seven years to get a child sex abuse crime of violence law passed and expects another tough fight on this one. She ran a domestic violence center for 12 years. “We had a woman shot in the face of my home county. This year she had been denied a protective order in two counties before she got shot in the face,” Hecht said.
No word on when the committee will vote, but the Frederick lawmaker, is hopeful she’ll have the votes to get the bill out of committee this time. Even with a protective order critics say enforcement is sometimes lacking but at least it gives victims another tool.
“You have to have something in place where not only the woman feels like she’s being back up but there’s teeth behind that,” said Eileen King, Regional Director for Justice for Children-DC, an advocacy group for children and families.
“I never tried to get a protective order again,” Castillo said after failing the first time, “because I felt like not only was it not helpful, it was useless.” By seeking the protective order, “it made him much more angry,” Castillo said and without it she had nothing to stop him.
Castillo says she can look back now and say “I told you so” and wonders if she got the protective order would her children be alive.
Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)