After leaving his family in 1973, Leon Caldwell Sr. never sent his sons, Kenneth and Leon Jr., so much as a birthday or Christmas present, according to court testimony.
But after Kenneth, 30, an account executive, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, his father attempted "with alacrity" to cut himself in on the money his son's estate was awarded by the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, New York Surrogate Judge Margarita Lopez Torres noted in a ruling released yesterday.
Lopez Torres granted the request of Kenneth Caldwell's mother, Elsie Goss-Caldwell, that her ex-husband be excluded from inheriting any part of his son's $2.9 million estate. "It wasn't about the money but protecting Kenneth's good name and his honor," Goss-Caldwell said yesterday.
"If I could have Kenny back, I would give up all this stuff."
The judge's ruling came after a June 20 trial.
A nun who taught Kenneth in grade school, a longtime family friend and a basketball coach, all close to Goss-Caldwell and her sons, testified that they had never seen Leon Sr. at any family functions.
Leon Jr. testified that his first memory of his father was of Leon Sr. "really abusing my mother physically."
Goss-Caldwell's attorney, Paul Bschorr, said there had been one or two similar cases involving 9/11 victims. Bschorr said Leon Caldwell Sr. could appeal the judge's decision.
Neither Leon Caldwell Sr. nor his attorney, Richard Chisholm, could be reached late yesterday.
Caldwell Sr. testified at the trial that his ex-wife had prevented him from seeing his children, but conceded he never sought court intervention, the judge said in her ruling.
"I was new at this and I really didn't know about it," she quoted him as saying.
"Leon Sr. was, however, suffiently motivated and informed to consult with counsel to have his support obligations terminated" when the boys reached adulthood, Lopez Torres said.
The Caldwells were divorced in 1979.
Goss-Caldwell denied that she had kept Caldwell apart from his sons.
She said the support he contributed for the boys, $15 a week apiece, was so "sporadic" that she had to go on public assistance for a time.
The judge noted that Caldwell's wages had been garnished for support but that, as of 2002, he still owed $12,460 in child support. *