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Officials at Dallas’ Frank Crowley Courts Building are heeding what the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department deemed as “threatening remarks” made by disbarred lawyer Catherine Shelton while on her way to a recent contempt hearing. On March 18, Shelton was supposed to appear at the George Allen Courts Building in Dallas as a defendant in a disciplinary suit before 300th District Judge Randall Hufstetler of Brazoria County, Texas — who was assigned to preside over the suit — but Shelton failed to appear. Hufstetler disbarred Shelton, a former Dallas criminal defense solo. In the default judgment, Hufstetler ruled that Shelton failed to explain legal matters to a criminal defense client and failed to keep the client informed about his case. On the morning of March 29, Shelton was in a Crowley Courts Building parking garage elevator in Dallas with attorney Eric Smenner when, according to Smenner, she told him, “A default can be set aside, but you can’t take a bullet out of your heart.” Smenner, a Dallas criminal defense solo and former Irving police officer, says he immediately went to 291st District Judge Susan Hawk, whose court is in the Crowley Courts Building, and informed Hawk and her bailiff about the remarks. That same day, March 29, Shelton was scheduled to be a defendant in a contempt hearing before visiting Judge John McCraw in Dallas. Hawk was the judge who in December 2004 originally held Shelton in contempt for violating an order to appear in Hawk’s court; as a result, Hawk was scheduled to be a witness against Shelton in the contempt hearing before McCraw. “Why would she say something like that?” Smenner asks. “I just felt it was better to be safe than sorry.” An employee in Shelton’s office refers a call seeking comment to Shelton’s attorney, Reed Prospere, a Dallas solo, who did not return two telephone calls seeking comment before presstime on April 7. Hawk says she took the comments seriously, especially considering Shelton’s history. Shelton received a compulsory law license suspension from 1980 to 1982 after a jury convicted her of attempted murder, according to Dawn Miller, chief disciplinary counsel for the State Bar of Texas, and according to the opinion in Catherine Mehaffey v. Texas. Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals overturned Shelton’s conviction in 1982, because inadmissible testimony was allowed at trial, according to the opinion. “I don’t know if it’s a game she likes to play or if she’s serious,” Hawk says of Shelton’s remarks. “However, I take all threats that are made by her seriously.” “She’s been disbarred, and she’s backed in a corner,” Hawk says. “There’s no telling what she’s capable of.” On March 30, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department issued an internal bulletin detailing Shelton’s comments, says Sgt. Don Peritz, spokesman for the sheriff’s department. The bulletin labels the comments as “threatening remarks” but notes that there is insufficient evidence to file a criminal charge against Shelton. It also advises that “caution should be taken when making contact with Catherine Shelton or any of her associates.” Peritz says the sheriff’s department, which provides bailiffs at the courthouse, has taken extra security steps at the courthouse in light of Shelton’s comments, but he declines to elaborate further. “We’re aware the comments were made, and, this being a public facility, we’re very concerned,” Peritz says. “We’ve passed that information on to the people who need to know. And if she comes to the courthouse, she will certainly be watched.” Hufstetler did not return a call seeking comment before presstime. But Smenner says he informed the Brazoria County judge about Shelton’s comments. After a contempt hearing before visiting Judge McCraw, on March 29 McCraw found Shelton in contempt for violating an order to appear in Hawk’s court, says Rick Jackson, a Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Shelton. State district judges usually ask for another jurist to make rulings in contempt show-cause hearings, because the judge who initially issues the contempt finding is considered to be a witness in the case, Jackson says. McCraw sentenced Shelton to 72 hours in jail, Jackson says. Shelton was on the stand for about two hours, explaining that she failed to appear for a client’s sentencing hearing and a subsequent show-cause hearing for medical reasons, Jackson says. Jackson says he told the judge that Shelton’s failure to appear was not because of medical reasons. At one point during the hearing, Shelton proclaimed that she had not been disbarred, Jackson says. “What happened was that the judge made a comment that she [Shelton] was an officer of the court. And I said, “No she isn’t. She’s been disbarred,’ ” Jackson says. And Shelton said she wasn’t, he says. “I had a copy of the disbarment judgment,” Jackson says. A month earlier, on Feb. 7, Shelton frustrated a Hood County judge when she failed to show up for jury selection on behalf of a client being tried on a felony driving-while-intoxicated charge. Judge Ralph Walton of Hood County’s 355th District Court says he issued a writ of attachment ordering a Hood County sheriff’s deputy to bring Shelton to his courtroom. The deputy located Shelton at the Crowley Courts Building in Dallas that same day, Walton says, and brought her to Hood County. “I instructed her at the close of the hearing not to be late for any further hearings,” Walton says. But on Feb. 10, Shelton failed to appear for an 8:30 a.m. hearing in the case, Walton says. “She said she thought court started at 9,” says Walton, who later found her in contempt. On Feb. 10, a jury sentenced Shelton’s client to 85 years in prison, Walton says. “She didn’t make any opening statement. She didn’t ask any questions during the voir dire,” Walton says of Shelton at the trial, adding that Shelton maintained that the client had fired her and wanted her to say nothing. “There was no questioning of the witnesses and no final argument.” Walton says the defendant wrote his own motion for new trial while in the Hood County Jail. “I granted it and appointed him a new lawyer,” Walton says. On March 24, Shelton failed to appear in a timely manner for a show-cause hearing in her contempt case pending in Walton’s court, he says. William Bosworth, a visiting judge assigned to hear the contempt case, issued a capias for Shelton’s arrest when she failed to appear, Walton says. “She did show up about 15 or 20 minutes later,” Walton says. “She was arrested and placed in the Hood County Jail.” Shelton spent two days in jail before she posted $50,000 bond, Walton says. Shelton’s show-cause hearing has been reset for May 6, Walton says. In August 2004, Judge Martha Trudo of the 264th District Court in Bell County found Shelton in contempt for allegedly showing up late twice for a sentencing hearing involving Shelton’s client, whom a jury had found guilty of murder. Shelton also failed to show up for a show-cause hearing in the same case, Trudo alleged at the time. On March 17, visiting Judge Joseph Hart decided that Shelton should not be held in contempt. Jackson, the prosecutor in Shelton’s Dallas contempt hearing, says he was aware of Shelton’s recent contempt history when he prosecuted her but can offer no explanation for her actions. “I do not know what goes on in her mind,” Jackson says. “And nor do I want to.”

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