Love Hurts

Six of her ex-lovers or associates are wounded or dead. Authorities wonder if old ways die hard for former Houston attorney Catherine Mehaffey Shelton.

Since Shelton moved to Dallas, she has been the subject of numerous complaints from ex-clients who say she pockets their money and neglects to represent them. Among lawyers, Shelton has earned a reputation for using her remarkable charm to lure other attorneys, predominantly men, into her practice by offering them free rent in exchange for a large cut of their earnings.

Invariably something will go wrong and the attorneys will catch a glimpse of Shelton's more volatile side, says one former associate, who refused to be identified out of a fear that Shelton will retaliate.

"She's very, very likable when she's in a good mood. At any given time she'll have a lot of friends; most of them are on the payroll," the ex-associate says. "Catherine will be very, very upbeat and friendly, and then something will happen. Her mind just goes into a weird deal where the gears lock up or something, and she'll just go into a complete tirade. I mean, screaming and having a fit over something that happened ten years ago."

Shelton arrives with attorneys Randy Taylor (left) and Jerry Cobb for a hearing on the stalking charge.
Kess Gilhome
Shelton arrives with attorneys Randy Taylor (left) and Jerry Cobb for a hearing on the stalking charge.

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One attorney who encountered both sides of Shelton is Frank Pope, who first met Shelton in the 1980s when she took a job as a paralegal at Ensearch Corp. In December 1997 Shelton invited Pope to come work with her and her associate, lawyer R. Michael Thomas. As part of the arrangement, Shelton paid the rent in exchange for 25 percent of the attorney fees Pope earned.

Pope soon discovered that he had made a mistake.

In May 1998 Shelton and Thomas filed a lawsuit against Pope in Dallas County, alleging that he had failed to tell Shelton about several settlements he had negotiated and accusing him of pocketing fees that should have gone to her.

Pope denied the allegations and in pleadings told the court that if "any agreement can be demonstrated Š it was a result of duress." Pope went on to explain that Shelton had "threatened him with physical violence, eviction and criminal prosecution" as part of a ploy to get him to sign a new agreement in which Shelton would receive 66 percent of Pope's fees.

According to one source, shortly after Pope arrived, Shelton began to "go into rages and throw things in the office." At one point Shelton allegedly tried to hit him over the head with a lamp while screaming.

Pope declined to comment on the case but did confirm the lamp incident. The lawsuit was later dismissed after the parties reached an undisclosed settlement.

By the time Pope left Shelton's office in May 1998, Shelton was well known at the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a subcommittee of the State Bar of Texas that investigates complaints of attorney misconduct.

In July 1998 the commission sued Shelton after it determined she had taken nearly $10,000 from three clients in 1997 and then failed to represent them, according to Dallas County civil court records. Shelton and the commission agreed to resolve the case by placing Shelton on a six-month probation beginning January 1, 1999.

As the case rolled through the system, Shelton allegedly began to focus her attention on another former associate, William Parker, according to Denton County criminal court records.

Shelton employed Parker to conduct polygraph exams of her clients, but Parker decided to end the arrangement, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant dated October 20.

"[Shelton] became very irate over [Parker's] decision and on more than one occasion has followed [him] and has trespassed on [his] private property and at his place of business," the affidavit states. "[Shelton's] actions started in February of 1998 and have continued up to October of 1999."

Shelton was arrested on a stalking charge in October and spent a little over an hour in the Denton County jail before posting a $5,000 bond. The jail time did not convince Shelton to stay away from Parker, who in November convinced Denton County authorities to grant a restraining order barring Shelton for coming near him.

Even that didn't stop Shelton, who was arrested on December 14 -- just six days before the Hierro attack -- for an earlier alleged trespassing incident in Texarkana. This time Shelton spent 14 minutes in jail before posting yet another bond. The stalking case is scheduled for trial in March.

Three days later Clint Shelton sued Catherine for divorce in Denton County, accusing her of adultery.

In yet another bizarre twist in an already twisted story, in June the body of Christian Harold Hansen was found inside a bedroom in Shelton's Copper Canyon home, according to the Denton County Sheriff's office. Although little is known about Hansen's relationship with Shelton, he is reported to be an ex-client who was working off a debt he owed Shelton. Police officials say Hansen apparently died from accidental autoerotic asphyxiation.

By the Houston Press deadline, Rowlett police still had made no arrests in the death of Michael Hierro and the attempted murder of his wife, Marisa. When the Dallas County grand jury that is hearing the case might file charges is anyone's guess.

Although Key says he and Marisa have "full confidence" in the way police are handling the investigation, the idea that Catherine Shelton is still on the loose unnerves him.

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