Prince George's District Court Judge Richard A. Palumbo, temporarily removed from the bench amid controversy over a protective order ruling and two traffic incidents, is facing new questions about where he lives and how he handles domestic violence cases.
Tax forms show that Palumbo claims two houses as his principal residence, one in Prince George's County and one in neighboring Charles County. As a District Court judge, he is required to live in Prince George's. An official with the state comptroller's office said Maryland residents can have only one primary residence for tax purposes.
Meanwhile, advocates for domestic violence victims say they see a distressing pattern in Palumbo's conduct on the bench. They pointed to the case of a Prince George's man who allegedly attacked his wife in May, five months after Palumbo dismissed a temporary protective order against him.
The case is similar to that of Yvette Cade, a Prince George's woman who was set on fire last month, allegedly by her husband, after Palumbo dismissed her protective order against him.
Palumbo's attorney, William C. Brennan, said his client would not comment on either domestic violence case. Speaking for Palumbo, Brennan said of the residency issue, "Judge Palumbo's legal domicile is in Hyattsville, Maryland." Hyattsville is in Prince George's.
According to records filed with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, Palumbo and his wife list a two-story, 6,148-square-foot home in Port Tobacco in Charles as their principal residence on one document, but Palumbo lists a two-story, 1,232-square-foot home he owns in Hyattsville as his principal residence on another document.
"There's oodles of people who have multiple residences in the state. Only one is their domicile," said Deputy Comptroller Stephen M. Cordi.
Associates, friends and neighbors have told The Washington Post that Palumbo and his wife have lived on his sprawling 114-acre Charles property since the mid- to late 1990s. These people did not want their names published because they said they are fond of Palumbo.
He was appointed to the bench in 2001.
Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said district court judges must live in the county in which they preside. Enright said residency has not been defined; under state law, there is no specific amount of time a judge must spend in a home he has in the county in which he serves.
Palumbo lists the Hyattsville address on his driver's license and his voter registration.
A nephew of Palumbo's, Michael Lovelace, and his family live in the judge's Hyattsville home, Brennan said. Lovelace is an assistant Prince George's state's attorney. State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said Lovelace works on cases that appear in Circuit Court and does not appear before Palumbo.
The judge has also faced questions recently over two traffic incidents.
Maryland state troopers said in a report in August that Palumbo caused a two-vehicle accident in Charles, but they did not issue a citation to him. Six months earlier, a trooper was "counseled" for deviating from official procedure by voiding a speeding ticket he issued to Palumbo in Mitchellville. The state's top administrative district court judge temporarily removed Palumbo from the bench after a report of the voided ticket.
Meanwhile, information about the domestic violence case similar to that of Cade's has raised concern among advocates for domestic violence victims about Palumbo's fitness for the bench.
In the Cade case, Palumbo was denounced for his decision to dismiss the protective order, as well as for the way in which he spoke to Cade when she was before him.
When Cade told him she wanted "an immediate and absolute divorce," he responded: "I'd like to be 6-foot-5, but that's not what we do here. You have to go to divorce court for that," according to a recording of the proceeding.
On Oct. 10, Roger B. Hargrave allegedly went to the T-Mobile store in Clinton where Cade worked, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. Cade, 31, is hospitalized with third-degree burns; Hargrave, 33, of Temple Hills, is charged with attempted first-degree murder and assault.
Palumbo's lawyer has said that the judge did not intend to dismiss Cade's protective order and that it was the result of a clerical error.
Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, said she remembered a recent case in which a woman came before Palumbo with a crushed voice box after her husband had allegedly attacked her.
"Palumbo is there saying 'Speak up.' He is just going after her. He's very, very derisive in a jocular way. It's like, 'I'm going to impress you with how powerful I am.' It's totally inappropriate," said Alexander, who was not present but said she had heard a recording of the hearing.
In another case, Patricia Smith of Lanham went before Palumbo in December, telling the judge she was terrified of her husband and feared that he would again grab her, shove her and try to break into a room where she was hiding. Palumbo listened to her case, then wrote on a court document "No valid threat."
With that, Palumbo denied Smith's request for a final protective order. Five months later, after Smith had let her husband back into their home, he beat her up, leaving bruises across her neck, according to court documents and interviews.
Charles Maxwell Smith, 41, faces trial on the assault charges in December. A tree cutter and former professional boxer, he has a history of arrests and served three years in prison for a cocaine charge in the 1990s.
Patricia Smith, a nurse, got a temporary protective order Dec. 6 after an incident the day before in which her husband allegedly shoved her during an argument over a car.
In an application for the order, she wrote: "My husband tried to prevent me from leaving my car. He grabbed my keys and shoved me away from the vehicle with his hands against my chest. Later, he threatened me and tried to break in one of my bedrooms where I was hiding."
District Court Judge Jean Szekeres Baron granted the order, indicating in documents that there were "reasonable grounds to believe" an assault had occurred.
On. Dec. 14, the Smiths had a hearing before Palumbo for the final protective order, and both showed up with attorneys. Charles Smith admitted that he pushed his wife.
"Yeah, I might have pushed her," he told the court, according to an audio recording. "It wasn't intentionally to hurt her. It was just to let her know she wasn't going to take that truck."
Palumbo denied the final protective order, saying, "I heard the testimony, I listened to both sides. The court feels there is no valid basis for a threat which would lead itself to a domestic violence order.''
Patricia Smith said it was humiliating to be in court before Palumbo. "When I left, I said, 'I can't believe the judge is allowed to act this way,' " she said.
Feeling defeated, Patricia Smith said she let her husband back in their home. The violence escalated, she said, until May, when he allegedly choked her.
She went back to court, this time before Baron, who again granted the protective order.
Reached yesterday, Charles Smith said his wife is exploiting the system and exaggerating the charges. "That was all a plot, from the first case to the second case. She didn't have bruises the first time, so she put them on the second time," he said.
The effectiveness of protective orders is a subject of debate, with some saying they have an empowering effect on the people seeking them and others saying they give victims a false sense of security.