Maryland Law & Politics

Timothy F. Maloney talks ’70s politics, civility among lawyers, and having a gun pointed at his head

Published in 2013 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine

By Erik Lundegaard on December 12, 2012


Q: You were with the Maryland General Assembly from ’79 to ’95.

A: I was. I was elected at the age of 22.


Q: And your father was involved in politics but not as a politician?

A: Well, no. He worked for Sam Ervin’s subcommittee on constitutional rights. He was in the JAG Corps, which is why I was born in France. And he was an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB].

But when I retired from public office, he decided to run for county council. I took him out to do some door knocking, which he hadn’t done in 20 years; and he ended up winning by 38 votes. One of our local columnists called him “a block off the old chip.”

He was elected in ’94, the year I retired, and he was re-elected in ’98. He tragically died in office in 2001. A car accident. He had a heart attack, we think. But he was a very independent reformer, a great lawyer—as was my grandfather, a Harry Truman Democrat. In fact, my grandfather grew up in Missouri, and was a friend and contemporary of Harry Truman. And when Harry Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate, Truman brought my grandfather to Washington, summer of 1937, for a temporary appointment. He never left.


Q: Did he ever work for President Truman?

A: He served as commissioner on something called the Bituminous Coal Commission, which today would be FERC: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. After his term ended, he had a very unusual practice area: He started representing Potawatomi Indians in claims for land that had been expropriated by the federal government. These claims were all over the country: Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas. If you Google him, you can see some of the old records in these cases. With the Irish name “Maloney” people don’t suspect it, but I am one-thirty-second Potawatomi from my grandmother’s side. We are descended from the Indian princess Madeline Bertrand. I have the same amount of [Native American] blood as Elizabeth Warren, running for Senate from Massachusetts, who’s in all the trouble about that.


Q: Is that why your grandfather developed that niche practice?

A: I think that was part of his interest. That was my first exposure to the law: going into his basement, which would be filled with thousands of documents and maps and ancient records; and then going out west with him and my father to meet with Indian leaders, watch these claims being adjudicated. There was no such thing as a speedy trial before the Indian Claims Commission. These cases went on for 10, 15, 20 years. And when my grandfather died in ’67, my father, my poor father as a young lawyer, had to take on some of these cases to bring them across the finish line. He did those even throughout the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

My dad was a labor lawyer. After working for Senator Ervin, he worked for NLRB, and one of his first big cases was The Baltimore Sun newspaper strike. He would take me with him to see him try cases, labor cases, all over the country. When he became an administrative law judge, I would see him try those cases. He was very union-oriented. He came from the George Meany school of thought. He rarely ruled in favor of management except once when management was a group of nuns running a nursing home in Taunton, Massachusetts. I mean, his three absolutes were the Catholic Church, the Democratic Party and the Baltimore Orioles.

Four absolutes: and the AFL-CIO.


Q: At least he got to see the Orioles at a good time: late ‘60s, early ‘70s.

A: Well, he grew up in Washington. He was originally a Washington Senators fan.

As a youngster, he would take me to court. He would take me to charter board meetings. I got an earlier indoctrination into that. He would also do a lot of pro bono work for citizens who were fighting developers. The first case I remember he took me to, there was a woods behind our house in Chillum, Maryland; they were trying to tear it down for a bakery. So he had all of us kids protest outside the courthouse while he went in and tried the zoning case.

Then when Arthur Bremer shot George Wallace, the presidential candidate, that occurred in our county, and my father was county attorney. So Bremer was tried in our county courthouse. Two of my sisters and I, he took us every day to the Bremer trial. It was in courtroom 202 in the old courthouse. The judge was Ralph W. Powers Jr. He was not a Lance Ito. He got the whole trial done in five days. We sat right behind Mr. Bremer. He would turn around and smile and wave at us. I always thought he was a little insane but that’s not what the court found.


Q: So during all of this, with your grandfather and your father, at what point did you think you might want to be a lawyer?

A: I’ll tell you when it hit me. I was 17. A group of neighbors came to me and asked if I would help them fight a development proposal. They wanted to build a nursing home right around the corner from us, on a lot that should’ve been residential. They didn’t have enough money for a lawyer, but you didn’t need to be a lawyer to go before the zoning hearing examiner. So at age 17, I tried the case for them. I called witnesses, cross-examined their witnesses, put on evidence, researched the law. And the zoning hearing examiner ruled in our favor. I remember a few days before Christmas Eve after we won the victory, we were sitting in the house having dinner and the doorbell rang. There were a group of neighbors who had taken up a collection—I think they had $500 they raised—to thank me. It was sort of a Jimmy Stewart moment, you know? And I thought, “Wow, this is something I would love to do.”


Q: So was it the victory or the Jimmy Stewart moment that won you over?

A: Both. It was the sense of satisfaction of winning the case, and knowing you could do something that meant that much to the community. Today, 30 years later, I drive down Montgomery Road and there’s a single-family house sitting on that lot; and I always get a smile on my face.


Q: When did you get involved in politics?

A: When I was 12, I got a job working for the United States Senate as an intern. I had a neighbor who worked for Jim Pearson of Kansas and I worked for him in the summer of 1970 and ’71. It was a great experience. I think I was the youngest salaried employee of Congress that year. I remember going to the chief clerk of the Senate, who was my patron, and he was asked, “Is there anything in the law that prevents the Senate from putting a 12-year-old on the payroll?” And he said, “No.” It was a wonderful job. The Senator used to come in at 7:30 in the morning, which is when our carpool arrived, and take me downstairs while he had breakfast in the cafeteria with people like Senators George Aiken and Mike Mansfield; and to just sit there as a 12-year-old boy and watch that was a fabulous experience.

It was an amazing time in this country’s history. The McGovern-Hatfield amendment to stop the Vietnam War was being debated. We got lots of mail. The young staffers from around the country were political activist types. There were protests on the mall. That sort of whetted my interest in politics.

So when I was 20, in 1976, Paul Sarbanes was running for the U.S. Senate and I went to work for him. I was his Prince George’s County campaign manager. We won the county and the state. Then I went to work for Steve Sachs. Both Sarbanes and Sachs are still friends. Sachs was running as an independent candidate for attorney general. I joined his staff. That was in ‘77-’78. His campaign was doing so well, in ’78 I decided to leave and run for office myself.

So I went out and ran against the organization, I knocked on 10,000 doors, I got together all my friends from high school and ended up leading the ticket. It was really an upset victory.


Q: Who did you unseat?

A: Andrew O. “Sunny” Mothershead, who was chairman of the capitol budget subcommittee. He was a cigar-smoking, old school pol. The day I went into the legislature, The Washington Post ran a profile written by David Maraniss, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize [for national reporting] and wrote a lot of books, including the Clinton book and the new Obama book. He used to cover us. I know David pretty well. And he wrote an article profiling me and Fred Malkus. Fred was the oldest member of the legislature and I was the youngest.


Q: If you were just 22 when you went into the legislature, when did you go to law school?

A: A couple of years later. My dad said to me, “It’s fine you’re in politics but you can’t feed the family on politics.” And he told me something that really stuck with me. He said, “Never try to make your livelihood dependent on the outcome of an election.”

So I went to law school at night. We had a car pool that went from the legislature in the state house in Annapolis to the law school in Baltimore. We had a lot of fun. In fact, we had what we used to call a rolling study group. We studied in the car on the way from the legislature. We had a big experience, Valentine’s Day 1985. Our study group skipped Judge Solomon Liss’ professional responsibility class and went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant and two armed robbers came in and forced us to lie on the floor. Of course when Professor Liss saw that, he had a field day.


Q: So it was nearly a Valentine’s Day massacre.

A: Yeah, lying on the floor with a gun pointed at your head. But I graduated in ’86 and clerked for Judge Howard S. Chasanow. I left the legislature in ’94. Been there 16 years, I felt I’d accomplished a lot. The law practice had really grown.


Q: What firm were you with?

A: I was with a two-member firm. Fellow by the name of Ned Camus. Great trial lawyer. He was sort of the Matlock of Prince George’s County. When he retired, I came here. I’ve been at Joseph, Greenwald & Laake since January 1, 1999. So that’s, what, 13 years. We’re about 35, 40 lawyers. Great group of litigators. Hopefully they’ll carry me out.


Q: Did you ever run for higher office?

A: I was encouraged to a number of times but …

Some people, the minute they get into one office they have their eye on the next. And I always lived by this saying: “There’s two types of people in public office: those who want to be something and those who want to do something.” I always tried to fit into that second category.


Q: When you left, had you already begun this niche practice of representing politicians?

A: You would never represent a politician while you were one. But once I got out, I’ve [taken] a lot of cases at the intersection of litigation and public policy. I think they come to us because I have a pretty thorough understanding of the machinery of government and how things work. We have a huge civil rights practice here. We have a very large commercial practice. We do white-collar defense. And we do a lot of very interesting cases involving constitutional law. We also serve as the Maryland counsel for a project called National Harbor, where they are now trying to build a destination resort casino. We represent a lot of other developers. We represent a lot of the major developers in the county when they have litigation.


Q: Do they know about your early history fighting development?

A: Oh, they do. And they know about my dad. All with a smile on their face.


Q: In the recent trial of state Senator Ulysses Currie, you were on the witness stand. Was that new for you?

A: Pretty much. I’ve testified in minor matters, like fee petitions and stuff like that.


Q: But this was the first time being grilled by the prosecutor.

A: It wasn’t much of a grilling because I think he knew what he wanted to know, but he didn’t really know a lot about Senator Currie or the way the legislature actually worked. I was very happy Senator Currie was acquitted.


Q: Which legal organization has been most helpful for you?

A: I like them all. One of the things I enjoy most is, at the end of each legislative session I will go around the state and speak to about 10 organizations—bar associations, inns of court, law clubs—on new laws that lawyers have to know. I’ve been doing that for 20 years now. I sort of run a circuit around the state. It’s a lot of fun, but it also forces me to engage in the discipline of reading every bill that was introduced or passed by the legislature. It’s forced me to have a decent, chronological sense of the development of statutory law over the last two decades.


Q: What insights do you have about that?

A: That it takes years to pass a law. That things you never thought would’ve passed 20 years ago now become law. Mandatory seat belts were something that people in the ‘70s couldn’t think of. The culture changes, the law changes. I tell people the most important changes are not in the legislature but in the public themselves. Public attitudes have to first change before the law changes.


Q: Speaking of changes, what are the biggest changes in the law you’ve seen during your career?

A: The biggest positive change has been the improvement in technology and the biggest negative change has been the decline in civility.

Technology has been fabulous. I was at home last night at 11:30 writing a brief for the Court of Special Appeals. I had all the appendix, the entire record extract, 2,000 pages on my iPad, and the brief on my Apple Mac; otherwise a clean desk. When I was doing the same thing 20 years ago, I’d be sitting in an empty office building with books piled up everywhere.

Civility, though, is just … disappointing. I still think some of the best people anywhere are lawyers: inspiring, decent, courageous people. But there are a lot of people out there that haven’t been properly introduced into the real mission of the profession or never really got it.


Q: Any stories that reflect either end of this equation? Greater civility back then, less so now?

A: My first deposition was in a car accident case. It was a simple auto tort. And I spent hours preparing for it. And I asked the most convoluted, Rube Goldberg questions. And the defense lawyer on the other side, nice guy, now retired, named Bill Zifchak, he took me aside in a very nice way and he said, “Tim? Why don’t you just ask him how the accident happened?” And it was such a simple and gentle thing he did. I’ve told that story to young lawyers a hundred times: Just ask them what happened.

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