Nutbag Judge Orders Man to Pay Son's Killer
Alimony upheld after ex-wife's guilty plea
Thursday, May 11, 2006
BY ANA M. ALAYA
A judge rejected a Bergen County man's unusual request to end alimony payments to his ex- wife because she pleaded guilty to assault charges in the beating death of their son.
Instead, Superior Court Judge Eugene Austin yesterday agreed to suspend Christopher Calbi's payments to his former spouse, Linda, while she serves 30 months in jail. He must still pay $400 monthly to cover payments that had fallen into arrears, the judge said.
During an emotional hearing in Hackensack, the Teaneck father told the judge he has a "huge hole" in his heart and has fallen "financially destitute" since the death of his elder son, Matthew.
Calbi, an audiovisual products salesman, said his ex-wife doesn't deserve the alimony because she violated the moral obligations of their divorce settlement to "provide a secure home" for their children, Matthew, who was 14 when he died, and Dean, now 11.
Originally charged with murder, Linda Calbi pleaded guilty in April to the lesser charge of aggravated assault after admitting that she kicked Matthew in her Old Tappan home on Aug. 17, 2003, causing in juries that led to his death.
Her lawyer blamed the fatality on Pascack Valley Hospital, where the teen ultimately died of a ruptured neck artery 12 hours after he arrived there.
The boy's death shocked the upscale Bergen County area and drew the attention of then-Gov. James E. McGreevey, who ordered an intense review of how the state Division of Youth and Family Services handled the family's case. The agency had a 2 1/2-year history with the Calbis and an open file on the boy at the time of the death.
"That someone like me should have to support the woman who did this to my child is beyond comprehension," Christopher Calbi said after the hearing yesterday. The couple were not married at the time of Matthew's death.
Linda Calbi's attorney, Ian Hirsch, called the ruling fair. He argued that his client's criminal acts cannot be used as a legal reason to terminate the alimony.
"Mr. Calbi is using his son's death to take away any obligations he has," Hirsch said. "I think he's trying to take advantage of a tragedy and turn it around to his economic benefit."
Legal experts say the case is unusual because Christopher Calbi is seeking to terminate alimony based on the moral faults of his ex- wife, while the majority of alimony cases are fought on economic is sues.
"The purpose of alimony has nothing to do with moral obligations and duties," said Jim Cohen, who teaches criminal defense, criminal prosecution and ethics classes at Fordham Law School. "It's apples and oranges."
Judges have the power, however, to terminate or amend alimony payments when there are "substantially changed circumstances," said Bonnie Frost, chairwoman of the New Jersey State Bar Association's family law section.
While those circumstances typically revolve around economics such as bankruptcy or incarceration, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled last year in Mani vs. Mani that alimony can be cut or denied when one person's behavior is "egregious," such as attempting to murder the other spouse.
"There are times when people's actions and behavior cannot be condoned, and quite frankly that's up to the discretion of the court," Frost said.
In court yesterday, Christopher Calbi argued that his case fits the Mani rule. "The egregious act on me and my son is forever. I am living with a huge hole in my heart. I live in fear that someday, somebody is going to take my one remaining child from me."
Austin refused to terminate or reduce Christopher Calbi's monthly payments of $3,183. Instead he ordered that payments be suspended while Linda Calbi serves her jail time and that her ex-husband pay $400 a month toward the $50,000 in which he has fallen in arrears.
"I am not going to terminate the contract," Austin said. "It's a valid obligation negotiated between the parties."
Austin told an angry Christopher Calbi that he was sorry the father had to go through the or deal of his son's death, yet he threatened him with jail time if he didn't come up with a "good faith" payment to his ex-wife.
"Mrs. Calbi has pleaded guilty," Austin said. "She will do her time. But for the next 30 or 40 years, you two are parents of the same child and you both are going to have to deal with that."
Under the terms of her plea deal, the 49-year-old mother, who has since moved to Fort Lee, will be sentenced in June to three years in prison. She will likely serve 85 percent of that time. She can seek a reinstatement of the alimony when she is released, the judge said.
The judge also ordered a supervised visitation between Dean Calbi -- who now lives with his father -- and his mother before she is incarcerated, if the boy agrees.
"I would very much like to see my son," Linda Calbi told the judge. "I have not been able to."