NEW YORK – The Vallone family’s record of public service is part of the living history of Astoria. Although Peter F. Vallone junior, like his father, Peter Sr. and his brother Paul are best known for their City Council service, the foundation was laid by the former’s grandfather, Frank P. Vallone, who distinguished himself as a Judge of the Civil Court.
Peter Vallone, Jr. is now following in his footsteps as a nominee for election to that very court.
Recently, The National Herald was literally few steps behind Vallone. He was walking into a local restaurant for a fundraiser among friends to pay for some of costs of petitioning, which was very successful.
“All three parties offered their lines to me,” he said, and as of now, he is unopposed.
During the interview he agreed to, he spoke about some little-known elements of the court system, including the differences between election campaigns for the bench and other public offices.
“Candidates for judgeships are not permitted to personally do fundraising. A committee is formed, which the candidate authorizes, to raise money, but he cannot solicit or know who donates.”
“I is the pinnacle of the legal profession,” he said, and explained to TNH that “The Civil Court is the people’s court – if you watched Judge Judy and Judge Wapner, these are very similar cases,”
He does not know where he will be sitting yet, but he can be assigned to criminal court because of his experience.
After he left the City Council due to term limits, he ran for Borough President but was defeated by Melinda Katz. “That was not meant to be, but God opened another door, as he always does,” he said.
“I hadn’t considered a judgeship immediately after that…Perhaps this is what I should have been looking toward all along,” he said, given his grandfather’s legacy, a dedicated jurist who actually died in his chambers of a heart attack.
Vallone was six years old at the time so his memories are limited, but he revels in the praise he hears from people about him, “the stories about how fair and generous he was,” he said.
His father, who served as Speaker of the City Council, told him the story of how he once had to appear in Judge Vallone’s court. The latter announced “I’m going to have to recuse myself from this case.” But the opposing attorney objected – “that’s how much they wanted to appear before him,” Vallone said.
“It’s a great legacy that I hope to live up to.”
His grandfather came to America when he was two in his father’s arms. They lived first on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and around 1930 he led the migration of eight brothers and sisters, part of a wider Italian journey, to “the country –Astoria.
He immediately established the family law firm, which remains in the same location, and later founded the Variety Boys and Girl’s Club and the Astoria Civic Association, which continue to thrive.
“His great legacy includes a school named after him down the block, from our firm, P.S. 85.”
BIG DECISIONS NOT EASY
When Vallone was recently offered the nomination to run, he gave it a lot of thought. “I thought it would be an awesome opportunity to do justice” – and he embraced it.
“I have been a fighter for justice for a long time and now I can insure it is done,” he said.
“People know I was a prosecutor for six years, but they don’t know the rest.”
He ran the family firm for 10 years and did all kinds of civil law and also did defense work, and he actually appeared 60 times as a commentator on Court TV.
As public safety chair on the City Council for 12 years he was responsible for oversight on the NYPD and the district attorneys.
“I am currently working with governor Cuomo on important prison issues,” Vallone added.
“There perhaps isn’t any area of the law that I have not practiced – except being a judge.”
He looks forward to the opportunity to go from fighting for justice as an attorney and meting out justice as a judge.
“It’s a huge responsibility. Some people don’t want it, to find someone guilty and send them to jail,” but Vallone is dedicated to the safety of his neighbors.
As a candidate, and given his current position in the Cuomo administration, he cannot speak on the hot-button issue of the relationship between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD and the “Stop, ask, and frisk,” controversy, but he did express himself on the latter two years ago as public safety chair.
“I stand by everything I said back then, and unfortunately, the warnings I gave back them have proven correct.”
It is too soon for him to give a credible exhortation to young attorneys to pursue the bench, but his experience does enable him to tell people not to pursue a legal career “unless they are very serious about it.”
He believes youngsters deserve the truth, and said “I tell students do internships and do a lot of research into what being a lawyer is all about. Unfortunately, I have seen many unhappy lawyers.”
He told TNH, “You will find many talented attorneys who find the career rewarding ethically and financially, but you will also find many who should have made a better career choice.”
“You are either working for a major firm and making a lot of money but signing your life,” he noted, “or you are running a small firm and everything you take on is the biggest thing in someones life. They have been arrested, or they are buying their first home, or they have been in a serious accident. You are the person they are looking to, and you better not screw it up – the pressure is tremendous.”
And when he bangs his gavel for the first time, he will know people’s lives will be in his hands to an even greater degree, but he will find inspiration in his grandfather’s legacy.