Below the Belt

Page 5 of 7

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?

Legally, a defamatory statement "tends to bring a person into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule or to impeach the person's honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation."

Saban had the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that Hendershott "knew the statement was false when made or acted in reckless disregard of whether the statement was true or false."

As it turned out, those burdens would be too much for Saban to bear at trial.

The filing of the lawsuit allowed Dennis Wilenchik to delve into every aspect of Dan Saban's mercurial personal life, including his awful experience in the early 1970s with his adoptive mother, Ruby Norman.

As the case neared trial, an out-of-court settlement wasn't on the horizon.

Saban earlier had promised to drop the suit — in which he asked for no damages — if Joe Arpaio resigned. Fat chance.

Naturally, Saban was angry at everyone responsible for the story that aired on Channel 15 on the evening of April 30, 2004.

In the story, Ruby Norman accused Saban of raping her more than 30 years earlier, when he was in his teens. She first had gone to the East Valley Tribune to tell her tale, but a reporter there passed on it.

In early April 2004, Norman had e-mailed the sheriff's office with her name and phone number, claiming that her adoptive son, then Arpaio's opponent in the GOP primary, had done some "not so honorable" things in the past.

As vague as that was, a sheriff's lieutenant left a printed copy of the e-mail with Hendershott, the county agency's day-to-day boss.

Hendershott soon spoke by phone with Norman for a few minutes and, according to his trial testimony, she sounded "credible." The chief deputy admitted taping his chat with the woman, but after Saban's attorney asked for a copy, he said he had erased it.

Almost immediately after speaking with Norman, Hendershott had his public-information department contact Channel 15's Rob Koebel.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin