Below the Belt

Lawyer Dennis Wilenchik's spearheading Joe Arpaio's attempt to smear his chief political rival

Wilenchik also has expanded his niche as a go-to private attorney for law enforcement agencies around the state.

The La Paz County Attorney's Office has appointed him special prosecutor in a high-profile drunken-driving case against a state legislator from nearby Lake Havasu City. Wilenchik's contract in that case calls for him to be paid no more than $255 an hour.

More recently, on July 11, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors quietly approved the appointment of Wilenchik, French, and the other two trial attorneys in the Saban case (Adam Polson and Michael Robert Somers) as special deputy county attorneys in a potential criminal case against New Times.

Arpaio Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott expressed his admiration for Wilenchik’s aggressive  techniques.
photo courtesy of Kennedy family
Arpaio Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott expressed his admiration for Wilenchik’s aggressive techniques.
Saban’s attorney, Joel Robbins (above center), referring to Arpaio and company, argued that "powerful, evil people do powerful, evil things."
Saban’s attorney, Joel Robbins (above center), referring to Arpaio and company, argued that "powerful, evil people do powerful, evil things."

In other words, the county appointed Team Wilenchik to prosecute the company that owns New Times. Lawyers for New Times believe that the statute on which the possible case is based is unconstitutional and that the threatened prosecution represents an abuse of power.

The alleged crime: this newspaper's "revealing" Joe Arpaio's home address on its Web site in a July 8, 2004, column by then-staff writer John Dougherty. The law that New Times allegedly violated makes it illegal to publish home addresses of law enforcement officers on the Internet but makes no such provision for publication in print or on television.

Arpaio's home address already had been published on numerous Web sites before the Dougherty column ever appeared — including on the sites of the Arizona Corporation Commission and the County Recorder's Office. Dougherty illustrated the paradox of Arpaio's using the law to keep private the addresses of his commercial property in public documents while providing his home address to entities that published it on Web sites.

The quirky case originated almost three years ago in Andy Thomas' office. But Thomas later claimed a conflict of interest.

A source tells New Times that Thomas cited his being the subject of continuing criticism by New Times as a reason why his office should not prosecute any such case against this publication. It is unknown why there is no longer a conflict of interest in pursuing the case through Thomas' friend and legal colleague Wilenchik.

Though the minutes of the supervisors' special session on July 11 do not mention New Times by name, it becomes readily apparent that the topic on the table was the Arpaio home-address case.

First, Chris Keller, chief counsel at the County Attorney's Office, expressed his appreciation to the four county supervisors for meeting on such short notice (actually, the meeting took place over the telephone, and Mary Rose Wilcox was the only supervisor who wasn't on the line).

Keller then said the County Attorney's Office would be unable to advise the sheriff on an unspecified criminal matter because of a conflict. He explained that, normally, his office would have asked a neighboring jurisdiction to handle the case, but "those entities have expressed concerns specifically with staffing issues."

According to the minutes, County Supervisor Don Stapley said "he had personally spoken with County Attorney Andrew Thomas about this matter." Supervisor Stapley vouched for the county attorney's proposal, explaining that "this is an unusual case and situation that warrants the appointments of these special prosecutors."

Stapley also has been taken to task in numerous New Times stories over the years (including "Educating Don," March 15, 2001, and "Crack Addicts, Political Shenanigans and Indian Relics," May 9, 2002).

If Dennis Wilenchik pursues the New Times case, he hardly will be able to demonstrate impartiality, either.

Wilenchik was the subject of two scathing columns in this publication by John Dougherty about the attorney's lucrative professional relationship with Thomas ("Doubting Thomas," June 8, 2006, and "Bully Pulpit," June 29, 2006). In the past five months, Wilenchik has been criticized in two more New Times columns ("King of Pain," April 26, and "Pot Kettle Black," July 5).

Beyond that, in a July e-mail to fired TV reporter Rob Koebel, Wilenchik referred derogatorily to reporter Dougherty, who resigned from New Times last year but has done freelance work for the paper:

"Dougherty is out there working for [Phoenix personal-injury attorney Michael] Manning now as a freelance [private investigator] poisoning witnesses with his crap."

Indeed, Dougherty has done occasional detective work for Manning. And as can be gleaned from this e-mail, Manning — who has won millions of dollars in judgments from Arpaio's office for families whose loved ones have died in county jails — is also on Wilenchik's enemies list.

Dan Saban could have been content to tackle his new job as Buckeye's police chief and, in his spare time, lay the groundwork for a second run against Joe Arpaio in 2008.

But Saban couldn't abide letting Arpaio get away with the dirty trick the sheriff's office had pulled on him.

Saban and his wife, Donna, decided in April 2005 to sue the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Arpaio, Chief Deputy Hendershott, three other sheriff's employees, Rob Koebel, and Koebel's former employer, Scripps Howard Broadcasting Company, which owns Channel 15. (The latter two later were dismissed from the suit.)

The lawsuit originally was kitchen-sink, alleging invasion of privacy, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, abuse of process, and defamation.

But by the time the jury considered Saban's claims, Judge Houser had eviscerated the case until the only remaining issue was this: Did Hendershott make a false and defamatory statement about [Saban] to reporter Koebel?

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Hal Stiles
Hal Stiles

As a former resident of Phoenix (and a longtime reader of New Times and Paul Rubin), thanks for the great story on Dan Saban and his trial. I voted for Joe when I lived out there, and I wonder what I was thinking.


I think Sheriff Joe and Andy Thomas are a joke, they get the people voting them in because they are, "tough on crime", right? Well they are actually, "tough on families". They are creating criminals by over charging minor offenses and that is causing prison overcrowding. I had a 17 year old son that got into a simple car accident, no alcohol or drugs involved, and they set him up with 7-18 years in prison on a first offence. They are seething publicity rabid nut cases. Everybody in court in Maricopa county has the same comment, we are loosing our kids to sheriff Joe and Andrew Thomas when they could be joining the military, and not being a burden on the tax payers. I hope everybody sees this and votes them out, it is a misuse of authority and municiple funds.


Court is suppose to reflect public opinion!Video an print media reflects the editors opinion! Point being the media makes people guilty with out the use of the laws, and even if the person is innocent the media did it's damage, and gets away with it unless you have the $$ to fight it


I would like to see more about judge houser's jury instructions led to this kind of outcome. An accusation of rape ought to be defamation per se & damages shouldn't need to be proven. Sounds like there was a problem getting the court to do as it's supposed to do (follow the law); no big surprise there. Also, the Tribune mentioned that now Wilenchik (sp?) is threatening Saban with an abuse of process suit. Give me a break. So the drama goes on.

Jamie Carnahan
Jamie Carnahan

I'm embarassed to say that I didn't vote in the 2004 election that was mentioned in this story. I did vote for Arpaio before that. No more voting for Joe by me. I'm not sure about Saban either. Why can't we do better with our elected officials? It was a very interesting story, and I went back and read the earlier one, which really told what was going on. Thanks

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