Dennis the Menace

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

The real question, though, is why Dennis Wilenchik continues to represent the government at all. Since Thomas removed him from the New Times case, Wilenchik's firm has collected more than $200,000 from the county in legal fees. Since 2005, he's made more than $2 million — and counting. And as the sheriff's attorney, he's ensured a continued windfall in billings, including from Hart vs. Hill, a jail conditions case Arpaio inherited that has been in federal court for 30 years.

Wilenchik seems determined to see it go on for another 30. Before he collects any more taxpayer money, someone from the county's personnel department should look into Dennis Wilenchik's résumé.

He says he clerked for the Arizona Supreme Court; the court says that's not the case. He says he was a judicial commissioner for the county; his real title was lowly bailiff. And he says he was appointed to the county attorney's special operations unit — but he never worked there a day. (See Wilenchik's résumé as it appeared on his Web site on Dec. 18, 2007. And here's another Wilenchik biography, from another Wilenchik web site as it appeared Dec. 28, 2007, in which he's referred to as "Presiding Criminal Judge, Maricopa County," 1977. That was before he passed the bar exam.)

One of two known pictures of Dennis Wilenchik
courtesy of the Arizona Republic
One of two known pictures of Dennis Wilenchik
The other picture is of an oil painting of Wilenchik.
The other picture is of an oil painting of Wilenchik.

This is not surprising, coming from Dennis Wilenchik.

If the New Times case isn't enough, consider Wilenchik's actions in another high-profile case this fall. Wilenchik represented the sheriff in a defamation suit brought by Dan Saban, the Buckeye police chief who ran against Arpaio in 2004. Arpaio prevailed in court; the plaintiff's case was weak. But it's Wilenchik's extra-judicial activities regarding Saban that are truly alarming, particularly when you consider that Saban has made it clear he'll challenge Arpaio again in 2008.

Wilenchik has admitted that his goal is to get Saban fired from his job with Buckeye, and strip him of his status as a peace officer. He's written to public officials and entities including Governor Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Terry Goddard, the Buckeye Town Council, the Mesa Police Department (Saban's longtime former employer) and the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, the state police-certification agency known as POST. He repeatedly implies that Saban admits to having raped his adoptive mother, Ruby Norman, three decades ago. Saban has never admitted anything of the sort.

And then there is Wilenchik's now well-known behavior toward Timothy Ryan, the county's associate criminal presiding judge. A clip on YouTube features Wilenchik imploring Ryan to step down on behalf of Wilenchik's client, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, for refusing to smack down illegal immigrants.

He's certainly put a dent in his 15 minutes of fame over the past few months, but in many ways Dennis Wilenchik remains a mystery. The best likeness New Times has of him is an oil painting he commissioned of himself; the Arizona Republic repeatedly runs a picture of the side of his face. Indeed, finding information on this guy is like working on a paint-by-numbers canvas — it's painstaking work, filling in one small detail at a time.

Wilenchik doesn't make it any easier. While he did answer specific questions about his résumé, he refused repeated requests for an interview for this story; his bosses, Arpaio and Thomas, also declined. The State Bar of Arizona is investigating complaints about both Wilenchik and Thomas, but details won't be available for months. County officials confirm that Wilenchik's law firm has billed more than $2 million since 2005 but, as of press time, refused to release individual invoices that would confirm just who's been paid for what, and for which case.

The few details that are available have been hashed over. Suddenly, a man who's operated mainly in the high-stakes, exclusive world of civil litigation is being discussed all over town.

Earlier this month, e-mails circulated among local lawyers with the news that Wilenchik is being paid to lecture on ethics, through the National Business Institute, a company that sponsors continuing legal education lectures. CLE is a requirement for maintaining one's standing with the state bar. On December 14, Wilenchik offered his advice on "ethical considerations," including identifying and avoiding conflicts of interest, confidentiality issues, rules of professional responsibility and fee issues. (For details about Wilenchik's upcoming lectures on ethics and other topics, or to order tapes of his presentations, go to www.nbi-sems.com.)

Wilenchik clearly makes an impression. Those who have faced him in court describe him as smart, aggressive — and insufferable.

One longtime Phoenix lawyer playfully wrings his own neck in disgust, at the mention of Wilenchik's name. Wilenchik has screamed at journalists both in person and in correspondence, and he once talked about buying a small local newspaper so he could go head-to-head with the competing paper, which was printing stories he didn't like. He buries his opponents in requests for documents, then makes it expensive and difficult to obtain what's asked of him.

In 2005, the chief presiding criminal judge in Pima County filed a bar complaint on behalf of his assistant; Wilenchik was reportedly that rude to her. The bar declined to take action against Wilenchik, but Amy Rehm, senior bar counsel, wrote to him, ". . . please be mindful of your obligation to act in a professional manner at all times and to maintain the respect due to the courts. Should the bar receive further allegations of similar conduct, this matter may be reopened."

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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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