July 13, 2012
In a significant decision, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey upheld a ruling to award Bruce Rambo a judgment of $6.31 million in a wrongful death and survivorship action. Roy Rambo, defendant and Bruce Rambo's father, was unable to access funds from his marital estate due to the Slayer Statute, which prevents killers from accessing funds from the estate of their murdered spouses. The defendant claimed that the invocation of the Slayer Statute improperly prevented him from accessing funds that were rightly his, resulting in the deprivation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice in his legal defense.
The Appellate Division panel found that the restraints triggered by the Slayer Statute were directly supported by N.J.S.A. 3B:7-1 and that the defendant, who was represented by the Public Defender, was not denied of competent counsel. Furthermore, the panel declared that to permit the defendant to use the proceeds of the marital estate to pay the cost of private counsel would be a perversion of justice and in direct violation of the public policy expressed by the Legislature in N.J.S.A. 3B:7-5.
Christian Perrucci, a Partner the Litigation Practice Group at Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader, LLC who represented Bruce Rambo in the matter explained, "This decision reaffirms that the Slayer Statute is wholly applicable to any surviving spouse who criminally and intentionally kills the decedent, and that use of that Statute in no way compromises the surviving spouse's Sixth Amendment right."
In 2002, while defendant Roy Rambo was awaiting trial on charges of murdering his wife, Bruce Rambo, the parties' only son, was appointed administrator of his mother's estate and obtained an order pursuant to the Slayer Statute restraining defendant from utilizing any assets from the marital estate to fund his legal defense. After the defendant was convicted, Bruce obtained a judgment of $6.31 million in a wrongful death and survivorship action against the defendant on behalf of himself and his mother's estate.
The defendant subsequently challenged an order that equitably distributed the assets of his former estate, arguing that the court misapplied the Slayer Statute and prevented him from accessing funds that were rightly his, resulting in the deprivation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice in his legal defense.
Perrucci concluded, "The decision is an important reaffirmation of the moral justification for the Slayer Statute. A spouse who intentionally kills his or her partner immediately cedes all rights to use proceeds of the marital estate to pay private attorney fees, a principle that the Appellate Division affirmed today."