Glad-Hander No More
On a good day, David Hans Schmidt is a name-dropper, glad-hander and hobnobber extraordinaire.
But this is not a good day.
He sits in a visitation room at Maricopa County's Towers Jail. He is wearing the striped uniform of an inmate, and he is choked up, weeping.
It's a pathetic scene.
Minutes earlier, he had been pitching me on my need to obtain the "exclusive rights" to his story of personal persecution.
Schmidt is being held in the maximum-security wing, charged with aggravated harassment and voluntary adult child abuse. Because he is on probation for prior offenses, he is not eligible for bail.
Schmidt, 40, is normally a hot-headed PR flack who boasts of his chutzpah. He claims to have represented celebrity centerfolds, sirens and assorted other bad girls. Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Tonya Harding. He claims to have brokered nude layouts for Flowers and figure skater Katarina Witt.
He burst -- some would say slithered -- into our collective consciousness nearly a decade ago, when he ran a full-page ad in the Arizona Republic. The ad featured a photo of Schmidt, bare-chested, under the screaming headline, "Meet a PR Practitioner Who Has a Pair." He crowed that his brash style would make his clients rich.
He was blatantly touting himself as a PR whore, a shameless self-promoter, which was as obnoxious as it was refreshing.
The public relations community shunned and condemned him, said he was unethical and gave the PR profession a bad name. That, in my mind, bestowed him with at least one redeeming trait.
These days, however, Schmidt could use a good PR man of his own.
The charges against him are the latest chapter in a long-running battle over custody of his two young daughters. The docket alone in this domestic relations case runs to 12 single-spaced pages.
He was picked up last week for violating a protective order held by Janice Lee Olson, the mother of his daughters. She and Schmidt never married.
He is also accused of somehow injuring the toe of his 11-year-old daughter. That crime allegedly occurred on March 17, during his bimonthly five-hour unsupervised visit with his daughters. He heard about the injury three days later, he says. He was arrested days later -- the seventh time he's been arrested since August 1999.
He pleads ignorance of how any such injury could have occurred. When he dropped the girls off at a visitation center, the three of them beamed for a photo -- they wore balloon animals on their heads. They had played Wiffle ball before that. There were no complaints about injuries, he says.
I smell a foot fetish.
The daughter he is accused of abusing is a competitive skater, and Schmidt tenderly recalls how he arranged for her to get lessons from one of his clients, Tonya Harding.
"I used to fly Janice's family to [his daughter's] skating events," he says. "I pay this woman $2,400 a month in child support. I bought her her braces. I bought her her breasts. I bought her a Mercedes. I gave her everything."
Schmidt's braggadocio is never far beneath the surface. But the enormity of his legal dilemma and the accusations against him have chased it away for now, and tears stream down his cheeks.
"All I've ever wanted in this whole thing is reasonable access to my children," he says. "I would cut off one of my feet to thwart any pain for my daughters. I am not a violent person. I have never even spanked one of my kids."
He quickly regains his composure and spouts conspiracy theory against the ubiquitous "they." Olson has been "setting me up like a bowling pin." Olson declined to comment.
He rails against a county prosecutor, calling her an "overzealous femi-Nazi" who "does not like the fact that I broker beautiful women into Playboy and Penthouse." A spokesman for the county attorney declined to comment.
"They just don't like who I am," Schmidt says. "They think I'm arrogant and conceited, and I'm not. I never forced a woman to pose for Playboy or Penthouse at gunpoint."
He's spent 210 days in jail in the past 16 months. His PR business is in tatters.
"It's hell to try and run a business out of here," he says, gesturing to the dingy surroundings. "I'm very close to bankruptcy. I've got to be on jets to L.A. and New York and Chicago."
A bus to Florence seems more likely.
David Hans Schmidt undoubtedly is a master of spin. He's the flack's version of a shock jock.
As he sits in jail, his fear is palpable and his remorse seems genuine at times. Yet he can be counted on to lapse into PR-speak.
He's written a first-person account of his battle to be a parent, of his victimization by the police, his ex-mate and the judicial system, he tells me. He calls it Dead Dog Burning, and he claims John Grisham is reviewing a copy of it as we speak.
If Schmidt really did something to hurt his daughter, it would be a departure. There is no apparent history of violence -- though it seems to simmer behind his chiseled face. He is guilty as sin of having a motormouth and a hyperactive speed-dial.
There is a pattern of the flouting of guidelines set down by domestic relations court. He was locked up last year after he called Olson's home to speak with his daughters after the prescribed two-hour window for making such calls. He has been busted for giving his ex a child-support check instead of paying through the court's clearinghouse. He was nailed for having a third party deliver a present to his daughters last Easter.
He's doing it all for love.
Yet the man who hung a painting of an erupting volcano on the wall of his home clearly has a volcanic temper.
He was charged with theft after he took a tape recorder from a court-appointed visitation representative.
A service that supervised visits with his daughters refused to schedule any more appointments for him. "Mr. Schmidt used profanity and became very hostile on numerous occasions," the manager of the agency told the court.
When his home was searched after one arrest, police seized two guns, marijuana and drug paraphernalia and found substances used to mask the presence of illegal drugs in urine tests.
"It would appear by the defendant's pattern of disrespectful and belligerent behavior and his lack of respect for the Court's order, that his narcissistic approach continues to negatively impact his court-ordered visitations and his compliance with the domestic relations and criminal Court orders," a probation officer wrote in a December pre-sentence report. "Mr. Schmidt's continued disregard for the Court orders has grown tiresome and is not acceptable."
The probation officer wrote that Schmidt posed a threat to the safety of Olson and his children.
Last May 11 was a banner day for David Hans Schmidt, the "black sheep" son of a wealthy grain farmer and land developer from Rochester, Minnesota.
Schmidt and his newest client, Leslie Shorb, were in New York to get some national television face time. They were interviewed on The Early Show by Bryant Gumbel.
Shorb is the 18-year-old high school valedictorian from a tiny school in Oregon who had been stripped of her academic honor after joining some male classmates for a shower in the boys' locker room.
Schmidt was introduced as Shorb's lawyer, a bit of misinformation he did nothing to correct. He even tried to talk like a lawyer.
"And nowhere in the history of jurisprudence within a school setting have they gone to this extreme amount of punishment that they've handed down so heavy-handedly in this situation," Schmidt said.
His appearance with Shorb, however, was not nearly as telling as the banter on the next day's Early Show:
JULIE CHEN (anchor): Well, yesterday on the show, we had a man by the name of David Hans Schmidt -- who you interviewed -- who represents the young girl in Oregon who jumped in the shower with the guys. Right?
CHEN: Well . . .
GUMBEL: Who I took a dim view of, as you could tell.
CHEN: Well, it's going to -- you're going to take even a dimmer view. That light's going out because right here it says that -- as you know, he represents Paula Jones.
GUMBEL: He also represented Tonya Harding . . .
CHEN: And Tonya Harding.
GUMBEL: There's a pair to draw to.
CHEN: Fine clientele. Well, apparently, he's in a fight with Susan Carpenter-McMillan, who also reps Paula Jones, because . . . Hans Schmidt has brokered a deal for Paula Jones to be in Penthouse and Carpenter-McMillan says, "Don't do it. Don't do it. You're going to ruin -- you're going to ruin your fine reputation." And . . .
GUMBEL: Why would anybody want to look at her in Penthouse?
CHEN: Well, they did the first time around. Remember those other photos . . .
GUMBEL: I mean, her nose would be a foldout . . .
CHEN: So listen to this quote. So he says that Carpen -- he -- he told Carpenter-McMillan, "I spent nine months on this deal." And she says, "Well, I've . . . I've spent five years with Paula Jones and haven't made a cent, and you're going to make money off this." And he insists that -- that it -- it's going through.
JANE CLAYSON (co-host): Well, you know what he did on our show yesterday?
CLAYSON: He was over at the Plaza Hotel with his client, racked up a $400 bar tab on -- at the Plaza Hotel bar, was completely . . . toast. Where they called the producer . . . "He's racking up all this money. Spending all this money. He's buying all this booze. What are we supposed to do?"
And he was downstairs before he went on with you, the producers were saying, caressing her hair and sort of kissing her on the neck, very inappropriately. So they said it was creepy. . . . Well, just the jacket alone really gave away his personality . . .
GUMBEL: I mean, I just wonder -- I mean, if you -- if you've got a 17-year-old daughter who is having some legal difficulties, why on Earth . . . would you pick someone who is best known for representing Tonya Harding and Paula Jones? . . . I mean, it just -- I -- judging -- you know, you are the company you keep.
The company David Hans Schmidt keeps today consists of maximum-security inmates. The grimy abode cannot dash his delusions of grandeur.
"My plan was to run for governor next year, and this [latest incarceration] is going to make it even harder," he says without a hint of irony.
He once wore a prison-striped tee shirt to court that said, "Ex-Con for Governor."
His platform would be fathers' rights.
"By virtue of being a male, you are already condemned when you walk into domestic relations court," he says earnestly.
He pauses and kneads his hands furtively.
"I don't think I'm going to be able to make a [plea] deal this time," he says, "because the charges are just too darn serious."
Tears well up again.
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