Dennis the Menace

Arpaio's lawyer can't explain away his fudged résumé

On October 19, the day after New Times' owners were arrested, the county attorney very publicly fired special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik.

That same day, Bill French very quietly resigned from Wilenchik's law firm.

At 76, French is a man who could rest on his laurels. Instead, he shared them with Dennis Wilenchik — and came to regret it.

This summer, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas asked the Board of Supervisors to name Wilenchik a special prosecutor in a would-be grand jury proceeding against New Times.

Wilenchik had already asked French to join the case. He was an obvious choice.

A construction defect attorney specializing in mold, Wilenchik is best known for his bombastic courtroom behavior. French's own reputation is impeccable: one-time Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge, Justice Department attorney, experienced litigator, and — the job most remember him for — special prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham.

These credentials were clearly important to Wilenchik, who proudly listed French as "of counsel" on his firm's Web site; in court, he often referred to his colleague as "Judge French."

Titles matter to Wilenchik.

As New Times has learned, Wilenchik has padded his own résumé with laurels that never existed.

Clearly, he needed a front man, and Bill French was it.

Reached by phone at his north central Phoenix home, French explains that he was to be the co-counsel in the case against the newspaper because of his experience dealing with grand juries on the federal level. French had even taken a refresher course at the county attorney's office, to prepare for his role.

At issue was whether New Times had broken a little-known law by publishing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's home address online nearly four years earlier. The paper had disclosed that Arpaio was abusing another law that allows some peace officers to remove their home addresses from county property records. Arpaio was using the law to conceal details of his extensive commercial real estate investments.

By his own admission, it's not an area of the law in which French is particularly well-versed, which could be why the subpoenas the special prosecutors issued were ridiculously overreaching. French acknowledges that he saw them. He says he was concerned with figuring out who at the paper had authorized the publication of Arpaio's address online in a story by then-columnist John Dougherty. As for the unprecedented request for volumes of data on New Times' online readers?

"The computer stuff I didn't understand; I'm not that knowledgeable about computers," French says.

Too bad, because that's what drove readers mad — the idea that the government would ask for their personal online reading habits. The rest of the public outcry was over the arrests of New Times' owners, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, the night after they revealed details of the then-secret grand jury investigation in a cover story.

French insists he didn't know about the arrests, either.

He recalls that he was at Wilenchik's office on October 18, the day the New Times story was published. "There was somebody from the Sheriff's Office there who said, 'Here are your options: citation, information . . .' and the third was the arrest. Wilenchik was not there. I said, 'Let's do the citation.'"

French adds, "That's what was being prepared. I left about 4:15 on that day and was amazed when I found out what happened. I couldn't comprehend it. I think objectively not anybody could."

But obviously someone could, because earlier that very day, Wilenchik filed a motion in court asking the judge to hold New Times in contempt — to arrest not only Lacey and Larkin but also three of their lawyers, and fine the paper what could ultimately have amounted to $90 million.

To this day, no one will stand up and take the fall for authorizing the arrests. The Sheriff's Office has denied it; so has Wilenchik. (In an eight-page press release defending his actions, Wilenchik actually said another of the "special prosecutors" must have misunderstood his desire to have citations issued.)

And yet, that night, sheriff's deputies arrested Lacey and Larkin at their homes. French woke up the next day to the news.

Ever the gentleman, French refuses to cast aspersions.

But French's actions speak volumes. He says, simply, "I decided that this was not for me. So I wrote out a resignation and I took it down to Dennis' office."

And, he adds, "I haven't heard from or seen him since."

It is difficult to imagine French adding his time with Wilenchik to his résumé. His previous accolades already fill the page.

Dennis Wilenchik also has an impressive résumé. Too bad it's not all true.


The events of October 18 may have driven Bill French into retirement, but Dennis Wilenchik hasn't missed a beat.

Thomas fired Wilenchik on a Friday. But that dismissal only extends to criminal cases. The following Monday, Wilenchik was back in court, defending Arpaio in a lawsuit brought by an inmate who slipped and broke his neck in the jail's intake unit. Wilenchik prevailed before a jury, although it's debatable whether the county actually saved much money by taking the case to court.

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5 comments
Guest
Guest

POOR JOURNALISM AT ITS BEST! You guys are used as examples in University Journalism Schools on poor ethics and faulty fact checking... if you are not careful about speaking ill about attorneys you could just as well be sued yourself! Oh wait, you have. Next time spend a bit more time on making one's articles well-rounded and a bit less biased... but then again this is a free paper with advertisements of escorts on the back pages. They might be the only one's funding the paper itself. Much luck to those trying to make their way here by hurting those who have hurt their boss... it might help in getting a raise! Much luck to your future.

veronica browner
veronica browner

I appreciated the article I thought it was well done. But, I am a bailiff. I did not and do not appreciate the term lowly in your article at all. I never thought of myself as lowly because I AM a bailiff. Lowly??? what the heck does that mean? I am right there with you with every word in the article. But please take care not to belittle those of us who hold the position of bailiff. Sure,he did at one point bailiff. But, the rest of us are needed and work hard.

Please take care in the future to respect everyone's job.

George
George

Keep up the good work and stay on these dirtbags next year. If you do a really good job on them, we can run Dennis Willenupchuck out of town in addition to Candy and Joke! If any of the 3 happened to end up wearing stripes and pinks in Tent City, that would be a big bonus.

Rick
Rick

You guys did it again! keep digging for the truth in 2008 as always, and don't let Arpaio or Thomas go in 2008 until they're behind bars where they belong.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

What tangled webs we weave.Keep on their asses and keep showing the true colors of Arpaio & Thomas to the public.Maricopa County needs to send them both packing in 2008.

 

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