John M. Fedders, who resigned a top post at the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1985 amid charges that he beat his wife, testified yesterday that his wife Charlotte shares the blame for his violent outbursts, which led to the couple's highly publicized breakup.
In a voice sometimes breaking with emotion, the former SEC enforcement chief testified in Montgomery County Judicial Center that his wife was an unsympathetic spouse who denied him emotional support during his periodic bouts with depression.
Fedders, in his most extensive testimony during the divorce proceedings, traced his emotional problems to his mother's prolonged absences during his childhood, which he said caused him to suffer depression later in life.
He described his wife as "a neurotic" who aggravated his mental state, occasionally by baiting him with angry suggestions that he commit suicide.
Fedders said damaging publicity about his wife's abuse allegations will be further fueled by her forthcoming book, "Shattered Dreams," and her 17-city promotional tour. He testified that media attention already has made it virtually impossible for him to salvage his once-shining legal career, and for that reason he wants a court-ordered share of the book proceeds.
Fedders, who once made more than $160,000 a year before becoming a top SEC lawyer, said he has sought numerous business and legal jobs in recent months, but the only offer he received came from a Trap-pist monastery in Virginia seeking a $10,000-a-year administrator.
He described himself as neurotic and said he was not attempting to excuse his violent behavior. But Fedders, who said he has undergone psychiatric treatment since his marital troubles, said his wife's behavior intensified the domestic disputes.
"Charlotte is not a sympathetic or compassionate person," said Fedders, a presidential appointee who resigned his $72,300-a-year SEC post after his wife's abuse charges attracted national attention in 1985. "She enjoyed going after me. And unfortunately, I enjoyed going after her."
Because she is equally to blame for the violence that destroyed their marriage, Fedders said, he believes he is entitled to share in the proceeds from the book produced by his wife and a Washingtonian magazine writer under contract with Harper & Row. The publisher began shipping 50,000 copies to bookstores yesterday.
"This is the most unusual exploitation of the intimate details of a personal life that has ever taken place," Fedders testified.
Fedders, who was a partner in the well-known Washington law firm of Arnold & Porter before accepting the SEC post in 1981, said he expects to make no more than $30,000 in private practice this year. He asked Domestic Relations Master John S. McInerney to reduce his $750-a-month alimony payments and order the sale of the Potomac house where his wife and five sons still live.
His lawyer, Hal Witt, said Fedders deserves half the proceeds from the sale of the house, but Charlotte Fedders' lawyer, Bryan Renehan, said his client should be granted full ownership of the house for herself and her sons, ages 6 to 19.
In a court document, Fedders, 45, asked McInerney to "reduce the amount of support" he pays his wife each month under the "limited divorce" granted to them in 1985. From the witness stand yesterday, he said the request does not include the $750 he pays for child support.
"I love my kids a lot," he said. "They need tangible evidence of that."
But of his wife, he said, "Our marriage was one of two neurotics . . . . Both of us had psychological problems. We were on a psychological collision course. The accident occurred."
He admitted striking his wife on several occasions but said she provoked at least as many arguments as he did. In a few instances, Fedders said, she bitterly suggested suicide. "She told me I didn't have enough courage to kill myself. She said it in front of the children."
Charlotte Fedders, 43, denied her husband's assertions in a brief interview, calling them "bizarre."
The couple is asking McInerney to finalize their divorce, but no date has been set for a final decision. They were married in 1966.
Fedders said he has undergone extensive psychoanalysis since 1985. He said he has traced the root of his depression to his childhood, when his mother was often hospitalized, having lost six babies because of complications in pregnancy.
After separating from his wife and leaving the SEC two years ago, Fedders testified, he was hired by the Washington law firm of Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin. But he said he found it impossible to retain clients because of the publicity his marital problems continued to generate -- a lengthy Washingtonian article in April 1986, another in the Baltimore Sun, his wife's subsequent public speaking engagements, and now her forthcoming book and promotional tour, which will include several national television appearances.
With a consultant, he said, he has unsuccessfully sought business and legal jobs in New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, England, France, Switzerland and West Germany.
Fedders blamed his wife, saying she appears bent on generating publicity and preventing him from rebuilding his life.
"The biggest problem is that by hitting her, I gave her control over me," he testified. "And she has used that control effectively."