IN JULY, Prince George's County District Court Judge Richard A. Palumbo issued a protective order to prevent Roger B. Hargrave from harming his estranged wife, Yvette Cade. Last week, Mr. Hargrave allegedly went to Ms. Cade's place of work, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire, causing grievous injuries to much of her upper body and face. All of which might be regarded as one of those tragic cases in which a deranged person bent on attacking his spouse can be difficult to stop -- except for one thing. Shortly before the attack, Judge Palumbo had lifted the protective order. Why the judge did so is a mystery; the manner in which he did so is appalling.

Mr. Hargrave, who had a criminal history, wrote the judge a letter asking him to rescind the order so the couple could get counseling. In response, Judge Palumbo held a hearing on Sept. 19. At the hearing, Ms. Cade pleaded with him to leave the order in place, saying her husband had been violating the order, contacting and intimidating her and her daughter, and vandalizing property. She wanted not counseling but a divorce. But Judge Palumbo cut her off and began berating her, saying that if she wanted a divorce, she should go to divorce court, not to him -- as though she had asked him for anything more than protection. "Get a lawyer and get a divorce. That's all you have to do," he lectured. Inexplicably, he then "dismissed" the protective order.

That order could have been granted in the first place only if there were clear and convincing evidence of abuse. Advocates in Maryland who work with victims of domestic violence say it's exceptionally rare for such an order, having been granted, to be lifted over the objections of the party it's meant to protect. Certainly here, there seems to have been no conceivable reason to remove protection, much less to treat Ms. Cade as though she were trying to game the system.

In response to the case, the court's administrative chief judge has temporarily removed Judge Palumbo from domestic violence cases. But this matter requires a thorough inquiry. The law is supposed to protect people like Ms. Cade, not to belittle them when they are most vulnerable to deadly violence.