Feathered Bastard

Andrew Thomas' Ex-Special Prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik Appointed to Real Estate Board by Governor Jan Brewer

File this one under "outrage du jour": Dennis Wilenchik, the former special prosecutor whose runaway investigation of New Times resulted in the wrongful arrests of Village Voice Media Editor Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin, has been appointed by Governor Jan Brewer to sit on Arizona's Real Estate Advisory Board

The nine-member panel provides the Arizona Real Estate Commissioner with recommendations "necessary and beneficial to the best interests of the public," according to the website for the state Department of Real Estate. The position is unpaid, and Wilenchik's term lasts six years.

The appointment of Wilenchik to any position involving the "interests of the public" is troubling, as he was fired in 2007 by his former boss, now disbarred and disgraced ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, less than 24 hours after the nighttime arrests of Lacey and Larkin by MCSO thugs on bogus misdemeanor charges.

Those arrests caused an unprecedented public outcry, which forced Thomas to end the probe of New Times and ax Wilenchik, who was his hand-picked attack schnauzer. Wilenchik, however, continued to represent the county in civil cases.

Wilenchik's investigation of New Times was part witchhunt, part vendetta, all over a 2004 article looking into Sheriff Joe Arpaio's real estate deals by New Times reporter John Dougherty. In that piece, Dougherty revealed Arpaio's home address, as it was the only address available through public records. Arpaio had ordered the addresses of all his other holdings redacted.

It's not against the law to publish such an address in print, but there is an obscure Arizona law, unknown to Dougherty at the time, which makes it illegal to post a cop's home address online. 

Arpaio had been seeking indictments against New Times for a couple of years for this supposed crime, but he couldn't get a county attorney to touch the matter, until Thomas took up the cudgel.

Thomas was Wilenchik's ex-employee, and so Thomas empowered his pal to go after New Times. Though a grand jury had yet to be empaneled, Wilenchik nevertheless issued subpoenas in the grand jury's name. 

When Wilenchik sought improper, ex parte communications with Judge Anna Baca, who had been assigned the case, Lacey and Larkin exposed Wilenchik's broad, over-reaching subpoenas in a cover story "Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution." 

Lacey and Larkin warned the public that Wilenchik was after information on the reading habits of all visitors to this website going back several years, and that he wanted to cripple New Times financially with $90 million a year in fines.

Chilling stuff. But it got more chilling when Lacey and Larkin were arrested hours after their article was published. Wilenchik has always contended that he did not order the Third World-style arrests, though he was in fact demanding that the court have Lacey, Larkin and three of their lawyers handcuffed and booked. 

Wilenchik's claims also were belied by the account of former Maricopa County Superior Court Judge William French. He explained to New Times that Wilenchik told a colleague, "`No more Mr. Nice Guy. We're going to arrest them.'"

(Arpaio's fired enforcer Chief Deputy David Hendershott has tried to take the blame for ordering the arrests as well, in what many observers believe was an attempt to deflect attention from the sheriff.)

And so, the arrests took place, leaving both Thomas and Wilenchik with one of the blacker marks on their blemished careers. 

You'd think Wilenchik's involvement in this sordid affair, his well-documented issues with the truth, and superior court Judge Timothy Ryan's characterization of Wilenchik as "a threat to public safety," would give Governor Brewer some pause in granting him any authority or influence.

Brewer's office did not respond to any of my inquiries on the subject. (As of the publication of this blog, the Department of Real Estate has yet to get back to me as well.) Her official letter to Wilenchik on the appointment, which accompanies a recent online press release, heaps lavish praise on the pugnacious mold-litigation specialist.

"The State of Arizona and I are fortunate that you have agreed to be appointed to the Real Estate Advisory Board," Brewer enthuses. "One of the satisfactions of holding office is the opportunity to recognize outstanding citizens by naming them to positions of leadership within our state government."

Calling Wilenchik an "outstanding citizen" is like calling Genghis Khan a pacifist. But considering that this is the same governor who made bogus claims about law enforcement finding headless bodies in the Arizona desert, I should not be surprised by the hyperbole. 

Nor is Brewer known for the outstanding quality of her appointments, her wish to fill a seat on the Arizona Board of Regents with a right-wing blogger/lobbyist being one recent example.

Currently, New Times is suing Wilenchik, Thomas and Arpaio over the arrests. A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year kept Wilenchik as a defendant while Thomas and Arpaio scored varying degrees of immunity.

That ruling has been appealed to a larger, en banc panel of the high court. A decision could come any week now.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons