Howard's top prosecutor, 'the good guy,' is bowing out

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

While Dario Broccolino was attending law school in the late 1960s, he was a Baltimore County high school social studies teacher and a medical laboratory technician.

“I scratch my head quite honestly when I look back at it,” said Broccolino, Howard County’s state’s attorney. “I was working seven days a week, going to law school three nights a week.”

The streak of hard work has continued for decades.

Broccolino is Maryland’s second-longest-serving state’s attorney since World War II, according to the Maryland State Archives, and decided not to run for another term in Tuesday’s election.

When his term ends with his retirement Jan. 8, he will have been the top prosecutor for the county for nearly a dozen years.

“He’s dedicated his whole professional life to law enforcement and public service,” said Circuit Court Judge Timothy J. McCrone, the former state’s attorney..

Broccolino, a Democrat, was sworn in in 2007 as the interim state’s attorney, when McCrone was appointed to the bench.

 

Under Broccolino, the office expanded its domestic violence unit, child advocacy center and established programs to help combat human trafficking, narcotics, residential burglaries and elder abuse, working with police and other authorities.

The prosecutor’s office had 28 attorneys in 2008, handling 16,115 cases. Today, 33 prosecutors have a projected caseload of 17,200 cases for the year. The office budget — this year $8.8 million — has grown 25 percent in the last decade.

“We’ve expanded our participation quite a bit in addressing the newer crimes and the newer issues that come up,” Broccolino said.

Still, he said, “it always seems to come back to drugs, because that is the root cause of so many other things,” such as robberies.

With the state and nation gripped by drug deaths linked to an opioid epidemic, he said he doesn’t have an easy answer. Experts say solutions will take years and require a multifaceted approach that includes education, treatment and appropriate justice. In the past year, Broccolino said he decided to go back to his roots, working on District Court cases involving drugs and alcohol.

“I particularly chose that court because I think they need people with experience, not only legal experience but life experience in that court,” he said. “I feel like I’m helping some people hopefully straighten their life out. Shake that monkey of addiction that is on their back.

“We are not an office where its ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’” he said. “We try to really resolve issues because, look, everybody is getting out sooner or later.”

Broccolino, 74, didn’t always see a career path in law. In college, aspirations of being a pharmacist were dashed by organic chemistry studies.

After graduating from Loyola College in 1967 and receiving a law degree from the University of Baltimore three years later, he was an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore City and then executive director of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association.

Broccolino joined the Howard County State’s Attorney office in 1999 as the deputy state’s attorney under State’s Attorney Marna L. McLendon. Five years earlier, Broccolino unsuccessfully ran against McLendon for state’s attorney.

“She hired me for the No. 2 spot and I think that is a real credit to her,” he said.

After being appointed in 2007 as interim state’s attorney, Broccolino successfully ran for election in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014.

Scott Shellenberger, the state’s attorney for Baltimore County, said his counterpart taught him the importance of hiring good people and investing in their careers.

“One of the biggest things that Dario brings to anyone is a sense of calmness,” Shellenberger said. “Nothing really gets him fired up one way or another.”

 

Now retired, Lenore R. Gelfman, a former administrative judge of the Howard County Circuit Court, was a colleague in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.

“I was a newbie on the block and he was a seasoned prosecutor and his reputation was of highest ethics,” Gelfman said.

Murder case memory

Broccolino said cases he has prosecuted “are all difficult from one degree to another.” But one case has always stuck with him.

A young woman, who had completed her doctoral dissertation and could have been “the poster child for Howard County,” was charged with murdering a fellow student, according to Broccolino.

Broccolino had a feeling the jury would have a hard time believing what she did, despite what he said was an overwhelming amount of evidence. After the jury deliberated, they found the woman guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“I still think about that case,” he said. “I knew it would be difficult, difficult for me to accept the jury verdict but I had to accept it.”

In the summer of 2015, Broccolino and John McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, established an agreement to investigate and prosecute cases involving police shootings in each other’s counties to avoid the perception of conflict. .

“This would give the community a fair sense of what is going on,” Broccolino said.

“The community had allegations about the police and prosecutors being too closely associated with each other and the community seemed to think we could not be impartial because of that strong working relationship,” Broccolino said.

Howard has looked at seven police-involved shootings for Montgomery, the most recent finding issued last month, and Montgomery has looked at five instances in Howard, according to McCarthy.

McCarthy, who has known Broccolino for 40 years, said everyone listens to him.

“There are 24 state’s attorney’s in Maryland and when they get together there are certain voices in the room that they always listen to and Dario is one of those voices,” McCarthy said. “When he speaks everyone listens.”

What’s next

Even with retirement, Broccolino said he isn’t hanging up his hat. He is thinking about either getting his real estate license to work alongside his wife, Bonnie Casey, or returning to substitute teaching.

Broccolino, who lives in Ellicott City, wasn’t ready to stop being a local candidate just because he was retiring. He unsuccessfully ran in the June primary for the Maryland House of Delegates District 12.

He has been president of the Ellicott City Volunteer Co. for the last decade and counting, and was a soccer referee for recreational league, high school and some local college club games.

A world traveler, Broccolino has visited most of Europe and Israel. In a few weeks he expects to take a trip to China and wants to see South America one day.

 

Broccolino recently married Casey, a real estate agent His wife of 39 years, Donna Jean Broccolino, a former registered nurse, passed away in 2008.

One of three boys, Broccolino calls himself the “forgotten middle child.” His brothers, Victor Broccolino, 76, the former president and CEO of Howard County General Hospital and Livio Broccolino, 71, a retired attorney from Blue Cross Blue Shield, both live in Baltimore County.

Broccolino endorsed Kim Yon Oldham, a Republican, and the county’s deputy state’s attorney, in this week’s election. Oldham lost to Democrat Rich Gibson, a supervisor with the major investigations unit in Baltimore City’s prosecutor’s office.

Broccolino said the state’s attorney’s office has “always tried to keep this office out of politics [and] hire the best people no matter what.”

Reflecting on his 47-year career as a prosecutor Broccolino feels “very blessed and fortunate to have that opportunity.”

“What surprised me about being the state’s attorney is being the state's attorney,” Broccolino said with a chuckle. “I always thought of myself as a career prosecutor, I liked wearing the white hat, [and] I liked being the good guy.”

 

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