The Prince George's County judge who dismissed a protective order against a Temple Hills man three weeks before the man allegedly doused his wife with gasoline and set her on fire has been pulled off domestic violence cases, court officials said yesterday.
The decision to bar District Court Judge Richard A. Palumbo from hearing domestic violence cases was made by Thurman H. Rhodes, the court's chief administrative judge, a court spokeswoman said.
Rhodes made the decision because he did not want the attention and controversy generated by Palumbo's dismissal of the protective order to become a distraction for people involved in similar cases, said Sally W. Rankin, a court information officer for the Maryland judiciary.
On Sept. 19, three weeks before Yvette Cade, 31, was doused with gasoline and set on fire, Palumbo dismissed a protective order she had obtained against her estranged husband, Roger B. Hargrave, 33. According to a recording of the hearing, Cade told Palumbo she was afraid of Hargrave, but the judge cut her off and, at the request of Hargrave, dismissed the protective order.
During the hearing, Cade told Palumbo she wanted "an immediate and absolute divorce," according to the recording. "I'd like to be 6-foot-5," responded Palumbo, who is about 5-foot-4. "But that's not what we do here. You have to go to divorce court for that."
On Monday morning, county police said, Hargrave walked into the crowded T-Mobile store in Clinton where Cade worked, threw gasoline on her, then set her on fire. Half of her upper body, including her face, suffered third-degree burns, the most serious level.
She was in critical condition at Washington Hospital Center yesterday. Hargrave, who is charged with attempted first-degree murder and assault, is being held without bail.
Rhodes and Palumbo referred calls yesterday to Rankin. District Court docket assignments are made on a weekly basis, Rankin said. She said she did not know when Palumbo might return to the domestic violence docket.
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said he would try to talk to Palumbo about the matter. "I'm sure this is one where if he had to do it over again, he'd do it differently," Ivey said.
Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president of government relations with Legal Momentum, formerly the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Organization for Women, said Palumbo's "sarcasm, and his decision to rescind the protection order, suggest he was not taking the victim's concerns seriously."
An official with the Commission on Judicial Disabilities in Annapolis, which investigates allegations of misconduct against state judges, said he could not verify whether an investigation had been initiated into Palumbo's conduct. If it were to find wrongdoing, the commission could mete out discipline that ranges from a private reprimand to removal from the bench.