John Heckler shook his head today and glowered with the controlled passion of the husband wronged. Lawyers for his wife, Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler, had just told a probate judge here that John Heckler's share of his Boston-based investment company was $4.8 million.
"I wish to hell they were right," he whispered to a courtroom observer. "I would have sold a long time ago."
"No more than $1 million," said John Heckler's lawyer, Mark Sandground, outside the courtroom moments later.
For the first time since the divorce trial, known as Margaret Mary O'Shaughnessy v. John McGuire Heckler, began more than a week ago, Margaret Heckler was not present. Her lawyers would not say whether she was in Washington preparing for the inauguration. In her absence, they spent the day presenting evidence to support their assessment of her husband's financial worth. It was a procedure that more often resembled an advanced accounting seminar than Day 8 of what is expected to be a nasty trial, one that has already included an admission of adultery from John Heckler and his lawyers' allegations of his wife's refusal to "engage in marital relations" since 1963.
John Heckler, 57, who initiated divorce proceedings more than a year ago, is suing his wife, accusing her of "cruel and abusive" treatment and claiming an "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage.
Margaret Heckler has also charged her husband with "cruel and abusive" treatment and is seeking a share of her husband's property, which includes the couple's three-story house in nearby Wellesley, a condominium in Rosslyn and Heckler's investment company, which last year reported sales of about $9 million.
John Heckler has made his case public, granting interviews and portraying himself as a male version of the traditional political wife -- an enthusiastic strategist and supporter essential to his wife's political career who grew increasingly bitter as the couple became estranged.
He claims it was his longtime political support that enabled his wife to get her Cabinet job. To protect his assets, John Heckler's lawyers will attempt to calculate the value of her position to her future earnings. Before court began today, Heckler described his wife as a "millionairess" and added that he did not understand why they were facing each other across a probate courtroom. "With her assets, her estate and income, there should have been enough on both sides to have enabled us to reach an agreement," Heckler said.
The trial, which is taking place in a picturesque New England town that adjoins Margaret Heckler's old congressional district, is expected to last two weeks. Some of her old political friends have turned up in court to observe the proceedings, and the case has supplied inspiration to Boston's newspaper columnists, one of whom began his account in yesterday's Boston Herald with the lyrics from a popular song: "What's love got to do with it? What's love but a sweet, old-fashioned notion."
"I mean, when you see some of the headlines: 'No Sex With Her Since '63' . . . I think she has tremendous courage. What other gal would open herself up to this?" said Ann Lake, a Dedham lawyer and former Republican state official who identified herself as a longtime friend and political ally of Margaret Heckler.
Asked why her friend had decided to take her marital history to court, Lake thought a moment. "It's a question of money," she said. "Money."