A little respect

October 21, 2005

If Prince George's County District Judge Richard A. Palumbo wants to be a marriage counselor, he should get a different day job. During a Sept. 19 hearing on a protective order against Yvette Cade's estranged husband, the judge should have been concerned with one thing and one thing only - determining if there was clear and convincing evidence to rescind the order. Instead, the judge suggested counseling "might not be a bad idea," and when Ms. Cade told him emphatically that she wanted a divorce, he made light of her request. His comments were insensitive and inappropriate - and a reminder that the public education campaign on domestic violence hasn't gone far enough. Victims of spousal abuse deserve compassion, not lip.

When the judge dismissed the case that day, the protective order also somehow was revoked. Mistakenly, the judge says now. But three weeks after that hearing, Ms. Cade's estranged husband walked into her office, allegedly poured gasoline on her and set her on fire. She remained hospitalized yesterday in critical condition with extensive burns over her face and upper body. The husband, Roger B. Hargrave, has been charged with attempted first-degree murder. And Judge Palumbo has been temporarily removed from hearing domestic violence cases. A little reflection would serve him well.

Ms. Cade sought and won a protective order against her husband in July. A month later, her estranged husband wrote to Judge Palumbo, asking that he lift the order. That led to the Sept. 19 hearing. Mr. Hargrave never made it to court. But Ms. Cade was there and vigorously argued for maintaining the order, insisting to Judge Palumbo that her estranged husband was violating the very conditions the judge had set to protect her. She ticked off the many ways, adding that her husband was trying to force her into counseling. Ms. Cade, who had previously been assaulted by her husband, told the judge she wanted an immediate divorce. To which the judge, a man short in stature, replied, "I'd like to be 6-foot-5." He told her to go to divorce court and abruptly dismissed the case.

There are outspoken judges and there are smart-mouthed judges. Judge Palumbo's demeanor during the September hearing in the Hargrave case places him in the latter category. Many crime victims come to court seeking justice. At the very least, they deserve respect.

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