Last Updated: August 2, 2001 Attorney Anne B. Shindell didn’t waste a sound bite last spring in defending her client, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, when former City Hall staffer Marilyn Figueroa accused him of sexual harassment. Shindell claimed that because Figueroa was a strong community activist, it was implausible that she was unable to free […]
Last Updated: August 2, 2001
Attorney Anne B. Shindell didn’t waste a sound bite last spring in defending her client, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, when former City Hall staffer Marilyn Figueroa accused him of sexual harassment. Shindell claimed that because Figueroa was a strong community activist, it was implausible that she was unable to free herself from a five-year relationship — if it was unwanted. Now it turns out that Shindell, who’s been a professional pit bull herself, was involved in not one but two “abusive” relationships that went on far longer.
The information is contained in a letter Shindell wrote to former Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Russell Stamper seeking leniency after her second of three drunk-driving convictions. On July 6, 1999, Shindell told Stamper she had undergone four years of psychotherapy to help her end “an abusive marriage” and “a relationship with a formerly abusive parent.”
Shindell was driving north in the southbound lane on North Port Washington Road in Glendale on January 16, 1999, when she drove onto the median and into a light pole. Shindell told police she was on her way to see a client, although it was past midnight. Police records show Shindell staggered badly and failed all three sobriety tests. Her blood alcohol content was .20, twice the legal limit.
In her letter to Stamper, Shindell said that midway through the psychotherapy dealing with her abusive relationships, she’d been the victim of embezzlement by her financial manager, Carin J. Froehlich. When Froehlich’s e-mail records were turned over to the district attorney, Shindell, now 49, told Stamper she learned that her then-husband and law partner had had a long-running affair with their 34-year-old employee. Froehlich was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison for embezzling $325,000. “To cope with this level of personal betrayal,” Shindell told Stamper, she had taken the anti-anxiety drug Xanax but had been unaware of how it interacted with alcohol. In another letter to Stamper, Shindell’s psychotherapist, who prescribed “minimal amounts” of the drug, noted that Shindell’s “use of alcohol” had become “excessive” but didn’t “warrant a major intervention.”
Because Shindell had been convicted of drunk driving in 1993, her second offense carried a mandatory jail sentence. Stamper sentenced her to 30 days, suspended her driver’s license for two years and fined her $700. Shindell served her sentence on an electronic monitoring bracelet, but she never paid her fine, and in January of this year, just as she became the mayor’s defender in the media, Milwaukee Circuit Court issued a warrant for her arrest. The warrant was still open on August 1. While reporters had no difficulty finding Shindell for sound bites, six months had passed and no local police authorities had been able to arrest her.
Shindell was convicted of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant for a third time in May 1999 and her driver’s license was revoked. On March 27th of this year, a Milwaukee County sheriff stopped her for a minor traffic violation and cited her for driving after revocation. (The charge was later dropped.) Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Charles Caughlin could not explain why she wasn’t arrested then on the warrant.
After Milwaukee Magazine asked Shindell about the warrant, she provided a photocopy of a check showing she’d paid the $700 fine to the Circuit Court on August 14, 1999. Bank officials say that the account on which the check was drawn was actually not opened until months later and that the check had been altered. The original check had been made out to the Village of Bayside for $684.50, the fine for Shindell’s third drunk-driving conviction, not the $700 fine that triggered the warrant. Later on August 1, Shindell went to the sheriff’s department and paid the fine, canceling the warrant.
Professionally, Shindell has other problems. She is scheduled to appear before a Wisconsin Supreme Court hearing examiner on August 20. The state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) charges Shindell with 17 counts of professional misconduct. The complaint focuses on five former clients who accuse her of accepting retainers between 1996 and 2000, then neglecting their cases, sometimes until the statute of limitations expired. Two clients took her to small-claims court, won default judgments and Shindell was ordered to return the money they’d paid. In one of those cases, according to the complaint, Shindell falsified a document claiming she’d repaid the money but hadn’t.
Shindell is also accused of repeatedly ignoring the OLR when it tried to investigate the complaints of four of the former Shindell clients. In one instance, she is accused of lying to the state when ordered to provide a financial statement. In it, Shindell claimed she had only $500 and owned no house or car. State regulators say she had an ownership interest in both. Shindell received a private reprimand from the state related to four counts involving fee irregularities in 1995.
In a response filed by her attorney, Shindell denies the state’s allegations, and her attorney, Terry Johnson, says his client will vigorously fight all of the charges. Last October, before Norquist publicly confessed to what he calls “an affair” with Figueroa, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Shindell blamed the OLR’s allegations on political retribution for her representation of Norquist, which, up to that point, consisted primarily of private negotiations, and on the fact that she had represented two OLR employees in actions against the state agency. Shindell now says she never told the Journal Sentinel there was a connection to Norquist, and she blames it all on her representation of the OLR employees.
OLR litigation counsel Bill Weigel says there is absolutely no connection. “This case followed all the normal procedures,” he says. “When you have five clients making… complaints… and you’re blowing their statute of limitations… that’s a serious pattern of misconduct.”
If the OLR proves its case, says Weigel, it will ask for a one-year suspension of Shindell’s license. “We haven’t seen anything to make us change our law… and we don’t plea-bargain anything down,” he adds.
Although more than 20,000 lawyers practice in Wisconsin, OLR figures show that only 24 were publicly reprimanded in the last fiscal year. Just five received discipline equal to or greater than what the state expects to seek in Shindell’s case.