Bully Pulpit

County Attorney Andy Thomas has not only steered a lot of business to his old law firm, he has hired his old boss to harass Sheriff Joe Arpaio's chief political rival

Therefore, the suit alleges, Hendershott was willing to do anything to destroy Saban's campaign. Naturally, Hendershott, Arpaio and the other defendants deny they did anything wrong in their handling of the Saban criminal investigation.

Thomas appointed his old boss, Wilenchik, to defend the sheriff's office in Saban's suit last July 27. Up to this point, as far as I can tell, mold-contamination cases were Wilenchik's legal bread and butter.

A key plank of Wilenchik's defense strategy has been to gather massive amounts of personal and professional information on Saban, data that most certainly would be used by Arpaio in the 2008 election campaign when Saban is expected to again challenge Arpaio.

"They are just trying to harass him and bully him," growls Aaron Goodman, an attorney with the Phoenix law firm Robbins & Curtin, which is representing Saban in the suit. "I'm sure they will use the information as ammunition . . . in the next election."

Goodman says Wilenchik has spared no expense in obtaining a detailed array of records on Saban, most of which have nothing to do with the merits of the suit.

"Everything that could be gotten on Dan Saban has been gotten," Goodman tells me.

Wilenchik has obtained Saban's employment applications and personnel files from the Mesa Police Department, from which Saban retired before running for sheriff. Wilenchik is also gathering information from the Buckeye Police Department on Saban, even though Saban took the job in Buckeye long after the events that triggered the suit.

Goodman says Wilenchik has gathered Saban's bank records, tax returns, real estate records (including deeds of trust), records related to changing his name, his divorce records, and copies of a polygraph Saban took before being named Buckeye police chief.

Not surprisingly, the sheriff's office says it's delighted with Wilenchik's fishing expedition and has requested that Thomas appoint Wilenchik to represent the MCSO in all future cases. Hendershott even went so far as to write a very unusual letter praising Wilenchik's performance.

"I haven't written a letter complimenting a lawyer before, but I thought it's important to let you know how pleased the sheriff and I have been with Dennis Wilenchik's representation of our office," Hendershott states in a February 1 letter to deputy county attorney Chris Keller.

In the letter, Hendershott asks the County Attorney's Office to allow Wilenchik to represent the sheriff's office in all legal matters.

"We believe consolidation of work with such an aggressive, highly qualified attorney makes sense," Hendershott states.

Hendershott's letter, of course, provides political cover for Thomas.

Rather than being subjected to criticism for steering so much business to his former boss, Thomas' spin doctors claim that the primary reason his old law firm is getting so much work from the county is because Arpaio and Hendershott are demanding that Wilenchik represent the MCSO.

Neither Thomas nor Wilenchik has personally responded to my repeated requests for an interview. But Wilenchik did have time to prepare a four-page, single-spaced letter to the editor demanding corrections and retractions to my June 15 column that first exposed the $326,000 in county payments to Wilenchik & Bartness.

Rather than sending the letter directly to New Times, Wilenchik first provided a copy to a Phoenix television news station that was considering doing a story on the matter. His attempt was to defuse my story. (The full text of Wilenchik's letter can be viewed by clicking below the image to the right of this column.)

In this June 14 missive, Wilenchik states that my column "was factually wrong and slanted in most respects."

He took particular issue with my statement that he is a "prominent Republican activist." Wilenchik writes that he is "neither an activist on any issue I am aware of, nor prominent in the Party at all."

But in the very next sentence, Wilenchik acknowledges that he is a "proud Republican Precinct Committeeman," which demonstrates that he is very active in party politics.

While Wilenchik never quibbled over the fact that his firm has received $326,000 in payments from the county for legal work since his old employee, Andy Thomas, got elected county attorney, he was livid because I didn't mention that his firm was handling one of the cases for free.

Thomas sued the Maricopa County Superior Court earlier this year to try to stop it from conducting post-DUI rehabilitative hearings in Spanish and Native American languages. Wilenchik says he was brought into the case to represent several victims of felony DUI offenders. Wilenchik states that his firm is doing this "at no charge or cost whatsoever" to the county and that he is "proud of our involvement on behalf of these victims."

I sent Wilenchik an e-mail last week asking him a number of questions, including the circumstances that led him to represent the DUI victims "pro bono." He didn't respond, just like he didn't respond when I was preparing my earlier column on the business Thomas has siphoned his way.

But I'll offer one theory: If Andy Thomas had just steered more than $300K into my firm's safe, it certainly would be prudent to kick in a freebie to help Thomas with his politically motivated suit against the Superior Court. For those of you who haven't followed Andy's exploits, he ran for county attorney on an anti-illegal-immigration platform. That the issue should have nothing to do with prosecuting criminal cases in Maricopa County was irrelevant to him and apparently to voters. He has continued to bash Mexicans since. The DUI courts issue is but one example of his race-baiting philosophy.

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