Dennis the Menace

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

He was also interested in how different law enforcement offices worked together, so he asked an innocent question about the Sheriff's Office's relationship with the Buckeye Police Department. Whoops. The reporter wasn't thinking at the time about Arpaio's acrimonious relationship with Dan Saban, Buckeye's chief. But Arpaio's people clearly were, because the reporter suddenly received several messages from Chagolla and other Arpaio staffers, culminating with a call he'll never forget.

"I'm Dennis Wilenchik. I'm the sheriff's lawyer!" the journalist recalls hearing. He told the journalist, "Dan Saban is a liar!" and then insisted that he write about Saban. (The reporter refused.)

Joe Arpaio and Dennis Wilenchik are clearly a perfect match. After a year together, Arpaio's chief deputy, Dave Hendershott, wrote to the county attorney, requesting that Wilenchik serve as Arpaio's exclusive lawyer. That must have made Andrew Thomas happy, since he's the one who brought Wilenchik into the fray.

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.

How Wilenchik and Thomas originally met is not clear. But Thomas was working at Wilenchik's law firm at the time he was elected (given that neither Wilenchik nor Thomas will talk on the subject, it's also unclear just what Thomas actually did while working at Wilenchik's office, other than sit by while Wilenchik made fund-raising calls on his behalf), and almost immediately turned around and handed Wilenchik what has now amounted to more than $2 million in business.

Arpaio claims Wilenchik has actually saved the county money.

In a press release dated October 30 (note this was less than two weeks after Thomas "fired" Wilenchik) Arpaio praised his attorney:

"Dennis Wilenchik exemplifies professionalism, tenaciousness and aggressiveness — characteristics needed to win in court," Arpaio said. "Taxpayers of this county owe Wilenchik a debt of gratitude. He has saved them millions of dollars."

It's safe to say the jury is still out on that one.

It would be impossible to account for the amount of money Wilenchik has cost the county in legal obfuscations alone, but one case illustrates the point.

Hart vs. Hill has been wending its way through U.S. District Court for a remarkable 30 years. It's a case about poor jail conditions that has been handed down through several Maricopa County Sheriff's administrations, landing with Joe Arpaio. In 2005, Wilenchik was appointed counsel, and immediately began stonewalling requests from the other side.

In this case, the move has worked beautifully, because the 82-year-old judge is moving slowly, to say the least.

In November 2006, the plaintiffs' attorneys (including Larry Hammond and Debbie Hill from Osborn Maledon) filed a motion asking for sanctions against Wilenchik for refusing to provide materials they'd requested, including:

• Documents related to the accreditation of the jail by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care,

• Independent evaluations of the jail's health care services,

• Inspection reports by any government agency on medical/mental health and environmental health and safety, and

• Minutes of meetings of correctional health staff or contract healthcare providers.

The specific issue is that the plaintiff's attorneys want recent records; they say in court pleadings that none have been provided beyond September 2005. Wilenchik doesn't argue that.

Hammond says the decision to seek sanctions was not made easily.

"It's something we almost never do," he says. "The idea of seeking sanctions — while there are some lawyers who seek sanctions as a matter of course — it is something we try to avoid, really, at all costs."

Hammond didn't see that he had a choice.

It is hard to believe that Maricopa County's citizens are being well-served by the refusal to provide documents that could demonstrate whether basic human rights are being granted in the county's jails.

"I kick myself for waiting so long," Hammond says of the sanctions request. "I think we should have done it earlier."

More than a year later Judge Earl Carroll has not ruled.

As of mid-December, Wilenchik had billed the county more than $85,000 for work performed on Hart vs. Hill since December 2005.

If the county ever releases a full accounting of Wilenchik's billings, it might be possible to better determine the quality of his civil work on behalf of the taxpayers.

It is already certain that his criminal work was subpar.

And even his friend Grant Woods doesn't understand why Andrew Thomas named Wilenchik special prosecutor in the criminal case against New Times. (It's hard to know what was behind the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors' decision on July 11, when they approved Thomas' choice, because the meeting — an emergency session held by telephone — was not tape recorded.)

"I honestly have no idea why he was brought in on this special prosecution," Woods says. "He's done excellent work on the civil side and he really hasn't done criminal law in a long time."

For the record, Woods also questions why Bill French was brought in, "at this stage in his career."

Jim Eckley, the construction defect plaintiff attorney who has gone up against Wilenchik many times, says that it may well be that what makes Wilenchik such a good civil lawyer actually hurt him in the criminal arena.

"I hate to say it, but delay and obfuscation on the DEFENSE side is fairly common in civil litigation," Eckley writes in an e-mail. "It is part of a strategy of burning out the plaintiff as, remember, in a civil claim, the plaintiff must prevail to win and on all points whereas defense must merely poke holes in a few places and the wind all goes out. Moreover, the defense wins merely by not losing. That can be done by long delays and large smoke screens."

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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.


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.


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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