A Prince George's County judge who has been the focus of controversy for a decision in a recent domestic violence case and a voided traffic ticket was temporarily removed from the bench and reassigned to administrative duties yesterday by the state's chief judge of the District Court.
District Court Judge Richard A. Palumbo, 67, has faced criticism for dismissing a protective order against a man who three weeks later allegedly set his wife on fire.
Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that a Maryland State Police trooper was "counseled" after he deviated from official procedure by writing "VOID" across a speeding ticket he had issued to Palumbo. In a memo to his barracks commander, Trooper Michael Land wrote that he was voiding the ticket he had given to "Judge Palumbo from Prince George's Court."
Land had cited Palumbo for driving 59 mph in a 35-mph zone on Route 193 in the Mitchellville area shortly after noon Feb. 17. The fine for the citation would have been $140.
Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, told The Post that troopers are supposed to let their barracks commander decide whether to void a ticket. Shipley said he did not know why Land voided the ticket, and Land did not return a phone call.
Shortly after 5 p.m. yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Maryland judiciary released this statement: "Effective this afternoon, Judge Richard A. Palumbo has been assigned to administrative chambers duties until further notice. This matter is under review by Chief Judge of the District Court Ben C. Clyburn. It is a personnel matter."
Rita Buettner, a spokeswoman for the judiciary, said she could not comment on the reason that Palumbo was placed on administrative duties.
A source in the legal community said the disclosure of the voided ticket prompted the action. The source asked to remain anonymous because the case is ongoing.
Palumbo's attorney, William C. Brennan, said neither he nor his client had any comment.
Under state law, Clyburn cannot permanently remove a judge from the bench. Judges can be permanently removed by the governor and the state legislature, by the legislature alone or by the state Court of Appeals on the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities.
Palumbo's temporary removal comes two weeks after court officials said he would temporarily not be presiding over domestic violence cases. Court officials said they did not want Palumbo to become a distraction to people involved in such cases.
Last week, relatives of Yvette Cade, the woman who was badly burned after Palumbo dismissed a protective order against her estranged husband, called for Palumbo to be removed from the bench.
Of Palumbo's reassignment, Michael David Haynesworth, Cade's cousin, said: "This doesn't renew our faith in the system, but at least we know it's being looked at very seriously. The sad part is we're giving him a vacation; he's still getting paid.
"I'm pleased for anybody who would have to plead their case before him. It doesn't matter what kind of case it is. He has no compassion to humanity."
On Oct. 10, according to county police and prosecutors, Roger B. Hargrave walked into a T-Mobile store in Clinton where Cade, his estranged wife, worked. Hargrave allegedly doused Cade with gasoline and set her on fire.
Cade, 31, suffered third-degree burns, the most serious level, on her torso and face. She is still hospitalized in critical condition and needs about 40 more surgeries before her condition can be upgraded, her relatives said.
Hargrave, 33, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and assault. He is jailed without bond.
Last week, Palumbo, through his attorney, said he intended to keep Cade's protective order in place and blamed the dismissal on a clerical error.
Thurman H. Rhodes, chief District Court judge in Prince George's, disagreed, saying there was no clerical error.
The February speeding ticket was not Palumbo's first.
On Feb. 23, 2004, he was cited by a Charles County sheriff's deputy for driving 59 mph in a 50-mph zone. He pleaded guilty and paid a $65 fine.
In November 2001, Palumbo was cited by Prince George's police for failing to remain at the scene of an accident after the car he was driving hit the back of a shuttle bus in Upper Marlboro. Palumbo told the bus driver he was "Judge Palumbo" and walked to the county courthouse.
Palumbo was found not guilty of leaving the scene of an accident but was fined $100 for speeding, his attorney said.