Shows Support Despite Testimony on Wife-Beating : SEC Chief Praises Controversial Official

Times Staff Writer

A top Securities and Exchange Commission official, despite court testimony that he has been a chronic wife-beater with severe personal and financial problems, won support Monday from the SEC's chairman for doing an "outstanding job" as the chief enforcer of federal securities laws.

In an impromptu news conference, commission Chairman John S. R. Shad told reporters that he has not asked for the resignation of John M. Fedders, the SEC's director of enforcement. Nor, he said, has Fedders offered to quit.

The Fedders controversy erupted when the Wall Street Journal on Monday published a lengthy front-page story containing excerpts from the court testimony of Fedders and his estranged wife, Charlotte, who are enmeshed in divorce proceedings in suburban Maryland. The little-noticed proceedings showed Fedders expressing remorse at having physically abused his wife periodically from 1968 until they separated in 1983.

Left Lucrative Practice

Relying largely on the public court testimony, the Journal also portrayed Fedders as a highly stressed man who has sought psychiatric help to cope with his marital troubles and the pressures of heavy personal debts. Testimony showed that Fedders left a lucrative law practice--paying $161,000 a year--in 1981 to take the SEC job, which paid $59,900. Now, Fedders earns $72,300.

Fedders, in remarks to the Journal that his office said were reported accurately, told of borrowing heavily to maintain his previous life style, including a country club membership and private school tuition for his sons.

Shad told reporters that he would not discuss Fedders' personal life. But he said that the 43-year-old attorney had done "an outstanding job" and had assembled "an excellent staff" to pursue insider-trading and fraud cases.

Shad's support suggested Fedders was hopeful that he could ride out the controversy without being forced from public office, according to associates who spoke on condition that they not be identified. At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes told reporters that President Reagan would normally rely on the head of an agency--in this case, Shad--to handle a matter of this nature.

Officials said that White House counsel Fred F. Fielding had been aware of the wife-abuse charges involving Fedders, and had spoken to Fedders about it after Mrs. Fedders sent Fielding a hand-delivered letter last year.

Eardrum Ruptured

The divorce case shows claims by Mrs. Fedders that her husband ruptured one of her eardrums with a blow to the side of her head in 1968, and that he later struck her in the abdomen while she was pregnant with their oldest son, now 16.

She said that Fedders, a former Marquette University basketball star who is 6 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds, became enraged over an $80 bill from a marriage counselor in 1976 "and just started hitting me," threatening to kill her. She testified that she fled to the home of a neighbor and showed her the bruises on her shoulder.

Mrs. Fedders also testified to several other incidents of abuse, including one in 1981 in which her husband yanked her by the hair and caused a permanent neck injury.

According to court records, Fedders testified that he was "forever remorseful" about the attack that injured his wife's neck. He said that he would not deny any of the attacks except to say that he never threatened to kill her.

Nathan Lewin, an attorney for Fedders, said that publication of his divorce testimony was "hitting below the belt." Lewin said that "it seems very clear that this has nothing to do with John Fedders' public life, that he has carried out his government duties admirably."

Fedders declined all comment to reporters Monday. In response to his plea for a reconciliation, the divorce court has given the couple until the end of May to try to settle their differences.

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