An article in yesterday's Style section concerning a filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court by former Securities and Exchange Commission official John Fedders incorrectly stated that none of his children had appeared on television with their mother, Charlotte Fedders. The article also stated that John Fedders had "recorded" telephone conversations between himself and his wife. Notes of those conversations were made by hand; electronic equipment was not used.
John Fedders, the former Securities and Exchange Commission official whose publicized divorce last year revealed a pattern of marital violence, has filed a motion seeking improved visitation arrangements with his children and alleging that his ex-wife, Charlotte, has "jeopardized the mental health" of the couple's five sons by "involving them in publicity regarding the past difficulties of the family."
The motion was filed two weeks ago in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rockville. The filing -- more than 50 pages, including letters from Fedders to a court-appointed psychiatrist -- is another bitter and deeply personal chapter in the aftermath of the Fedders breakup.
It comes less than a year after a Montgomery County judge granted Charlotte Fedders a divorce, citing cruelty and "excessively vicious" conduct by John Fedders during their 19-year marriage. Charlotte Fedders received custody of the couple's five children and full use of the couple's Potomac house.
The motion by John Fedders seeks to protect the five children from what he alleges are Charlotte Fedders' efforts "to discredit, degrade and depersonalize him in the eyes of the sons and to enhance the children's sole dependence on her . . .
"Prompt action by this court is essential to limit any further psychological battering of the children and damage to the father-son relationships," the motion continues. "The boys have a desperate need in their lives for the active presence of their father."
Since details of the Fedders marriage first gained national attention with an account published in The Wall Street Journal in February 1985, Charlotte Fedders has told her story to The Washingtonian magazine and made TV appearances on "Nightwatch" and "Good Morning America" as well as "Panorama," a local talk show.
The Washingtonian piece, which appeared this April, was nearly 20,000 words and chronicled in vivid detail the Fedderses' marital distress. During divorce proceedings, John Fedders conceded that some of the incidents had taken place but said his wife had exaggerated the physical abuse.
None of the children has appeared with Charlotte Fedders on television. The Washingtonian article featured pictures of them with their mother and a brief interview with the 17-year-old son. In the current Washingtonian, a follow-up story details reader reaction to the original piece and Charlotte Fedders' efforts to help other abused wives: "I want to help other wives understand that no person has the right to make another afraid."
*Charlotte Fedders and Washingtonian staff writer Laura Elliott had been scheduled to appear a second time on "Good Morning America" yesterday to discuss the response to the magazine story, but the appearance was canceled abruptly after Charlotte Fedders mentioned her husband's latest legal action during a preliminary, off-camera interview.
"We did not want to be involved in the middle of ongoing litigation," said an ABC spokesman.
Charlotte Fedders filed for bankruptcy last month, listing more than 30 creditors and debts of nearly $130,000 that she said she could not pay. She described her family's new life as a hand-to-mouth existence. She has said that John Fedders has made his court-ordered child support and alimony payments but that they, along with her job at a private school, were not enough for the family to live on. While an individual is involved in a bankruptcy filing, that court maintains preliminary jurisdiction over other legal proceedings.
Papers filed with John Fedders' motion include what are said to be partial transcripts, recorded by him, of stormy telephone conversations between him and his ex-wife. There is also a meticulous accounting of what are alleged to be Charlotte Fedders' attempts to interfere with court-ordered visits.
One letter to the court-appointed psychiatrist reads:
"I began to write to the boys regularly. Through May 1984 the envelope and letters were returned. Those which included a support or alimony check were opened and the check removed before being returned. On the reverse side of an envelope with a letter enclosed sent in April 1984 and returned to me, the following was written: 'We did not even read the letter. Send money to Mom. Not us. We took the money out because we were hungry, you creep.' "
The motion also includes sworn statements from the psychiatrist, who states that Charlotte Fedders' "involvement of the children in publicity has constituted child abuse and a psychological battering of the children, cruelty to them which is serious and lasting."
Charlotte Fedders could not be reached for comment, and her lawyer, Bryan Renehan, said yesterday that he would wait until the new motion reached Circuit Court (which requires the approval of the Bankruptcy Court judge) before responding to the allegations. He added: "From my knowledge of the case it looks like he's trying to build something out of nothing. It's something we'll have to reply to paragraph by paragraph, which I'm sure we'll do."
John Fedders, who resigned his SEC post and returned to a private practice at a Washington law firm, yesterday issued a brief statement:
"The pain and misery inflicted on my family, particularly our five children, has been incalculable. To a large extent, the extensive publicity that our family matters have received has exacerbated the problems and contributed mightily to the misery of each of us. It is my strong desire that my family and I be left alone to permit us to resolve our personal and private difficulties as best we can. I, therefore, prefer not to discuss our family affairs with the media."