Would you be surprised if the demon dog of the Arizona legal community were to act like a jerk in federal court toward a Deputy U.S. Marshal?
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That's why, when I learned about a hearing last week into the behavior of Dennis Wilenchik, an old enemy of New Times', the only thing I wondered was why a hearing was necessary.
Mold litigator extraordinaire and erstwhile "special prosecutor" for disgraced, disbarred ex-County Attorney Andy Thomas, Wilenchik recently appeared before Arizona's U.S. District Court Chief Judge Roslyn Silver to defend his actions toward Deputy U.S. Marshal Delvin Brown.
I'm not kidding by much when I say that a full regurgitation of Wilenchik's bad-boy conduct over the years would require the length of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Highlights of Wilenchik's career in law include: sparring with judges, ordering the arrests of journalists in the middle of the night on trumped-up charges in his role as Thomas' Grand Inquisitor, lying about ordering those arrests, issuing broad, Orwellian subpoenas into the online reading habits of the general public, fudging his resume, and having an investigator for the State Bar of Arizona tailed by private dicks.
So far, Wilenchik has miraculously escaped any real sanction for his bull-in-a-china-shop-like shenanigans, although he is still on the hook civilly for the arrest of the above mentioned journalists, who just happen to be the former owners of this paper's parent company, Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey. Currently the pair are suing the bejeesus out of Wilenchik and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in federal court.
But if last week's hearing before Judge Silver was any indication, Wilenchik may finally get some comeuppance, though it's a sure bet that it will not equal the karmic debt he owes the universe.
The hearing concerned Wilenchik's appearance May 16 in federal court on a case where he is defending a man on wire fraud and other charges. Federal court is a pretty formal place, but Wilenchik was there without the usual suit and tie, and was instead dressed in blue jeans and cowboy boots.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Brown was securing the courtroom. He saw Wilenchik, dressed as he was, seated in the "well," where only lawyers and court staff are allowed to be.
"The Deputy Marshal asked Mr. Wilenchik to identify himself," according to court records, "but Mr. Wilenchik refused to do so. The Deputy Marshal then continued to inquire but Mr. Wilenchik allegedly gave rude and inappropriate answers."
At last week's hearing, Brown told Judge Silver that he had been concerned by Wilenchik's appearance and that it was U.S. Marshals Service protocol to secure the court prior to bringing out a prisoner, in this case, Wilenchik's client, Duane Slade.
Brown, a soft-spoken gentleman who looks like a linebacker, told the judge the dialogue between the two men went something like this:
Brown: Who are you with? Wilenchik: Who are you with? Brown: (pulling back his coat to reveal the badge on his belt) I'm Deputy Brown with the U.S. Marshal's service. Who are you with? Wilenchik: I'm with defense counsel. Brown: Are you representing the client? Wilenchik: I told you I'm with defense counsel. Brown: Are you representing the client? Wilenchik: I already told you who I was. Brown: I'm here for safety reasons...if you do not represent the client...if you do not tell me who you are, I'll have to ask you to leave. Wilenchik: I'm not going anywhere.
(Note: These are based on my notes of the hearing, not a transcription, and there may have been some repetition. Otherwise, you get the general drift.)
Apparently, Wilenchik earlier had approached court staff, explained that he had just come from a seminar, and asked if Judge Lawrence Anderson would allow him to be in the well, dressed as he was.
Anderson told him he could, but that he could not sit at the defense table proper. According to Wilenchik, he was seated behind fellow attorney Anne Osborn, who at some point supposedly identified Wilenchik as "my boss."
Judge Silver later pointed out that Brown could have had Wilenchik removed at that point, and that she would have backed him up, considering the importance of the security of the court and the threats that federal judges regularly face.
Instead, Brown informed Judge Anderson of the man seated in the well, outfitted like a cowpoke.
Brown didn't know of Wilenchik's request to be present in ranch hand clothes, but Anderson did and told Brown he would handle it.
Handle it he did by admonishing Wilenchik and sending the matter up the chain to Silver.
Now, faced with the possibility of being sanctioned, fined, barred from some activity in the federal court, or God knows what else, most lawyers or anyone for that matter would apologize profusely to all and sundry, swear on a stack of Bibles that it'll never happen again, and hope that the powers that be are in a generous mood.
But Wilenchik is a pugnacious fella who takes great umbrage rather easily and seems to instinctively respond to criticism like a wild boar responds to a command to heel.A blast from the past: Wilenchik vs. Judge Timothy Ryan from a 2007 hearing
Remember, this is the guy infamous for accusing Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Ryan of "bias and prejudice" during a 2007 court hearing, implying that Ryan was "a danger to public safety," as he argued with Ryan in a back and forth that the curious can still view on YouTube.More Wilenchik vs. Ryan in this 2007 video
He's also the guy who once sought improper ex parte communications via an intermediary with Superior Court Judge Anna Baca in the case involving New Times.
So, of course, Wilenchik fired off a 10 page response to Silver, seeking to have her "order to show cause" quashed and that "an inquiry be conducted into the deputy marshal's conduct."
Rather than eat a little humble pie, Wilenchik accused Brown of adopting "an intentionally intimidating and menacing tone," and of being "aggressive," "threatening," and "unmannerly."
He denied that Brown identified himself as a Deputy Marshal up front or showed him a badge, and he, ironically, accused Brown of doing "nothing to diffuse or clarify the situation when it was fully and easily in his power to do so."
(Wilenchik admits Brown "eventually" showed him a badge, and claims that he responded by identifying himself.)
During the hearing, Wilenchick rejected Brown's version of events, and said that for personal reasons he doesn't like to give his name out if he doesn't know who is asking for it.
He admitted his manner could be "brusque" because he "grew up on the East Coast," but he meant no offense either to Brown or to the court, claiming that he had endured "sleepless nights" since the incident.
"I did apologize [to Brown] for any misunderstanding as to him not understanding that I did not know who he was," he maintained.
Silver wasn't buying any of Wilenchik's spiel. She pointed out how Brown was dressed, in a dark suit and tie, and given where he was and that he was asking certain questions of Wilenchik, it should have been obvious who Brown was.
"He was dressed appropriately, in contrast to how you were," she noted. "What did you think he was?"
I mean, like, duh, some dude the size of a refrigerator is dressed professionally, in the well of the court, with a badge on his belt, and Wilenchik, who has been a lawyer for 35 years, doesn't know who he is? That demon dog don't hunt.
Silver praised Brown as "the most professional marshal we have," stating that, "any other marshal would have called for backup and escorted you out."
She observed that the federal courthouse has the highest security for a reason. The marshals, she declared, "would take a bullet for anyone in this court, including you."
Silver's tongue stung like a cat o'nine tails, but Wilenchik failed to comprehend that the best thing for him to do would be to zip it. Instead, he kept trying to butt in as Silver reduced him to the size of a pickle.
"Don't interrupt me," she snapped at one point, accusing him of not taking responsibility for his actions.
"In my view, it's nothing more than impertinence," she steamed.
She noted that there had been complaints about Wilenchik in the past, saying that after a recent trial a jury complained about him making weird facial expressions and throwing a pencil up into the air.
Silver then offered an analysis of Wilenchik's personality.
"We all have things to work on," she told him, adding, "I think you have a temper problem. You need to work on self-restraint. You need to work on being calm. You need to work on your composure."
If Wilenchik had come before her and been willing to man-up and take ownership of his behavior, she told him, "then I wouldn't still be on this bench."
Amazingly, Wilenchik still didn't get it, and kept interrupting Silver, albeit in an increasingly pleading tone.
"I'm not trying to weasel out of anything," he said, then chirping, "Please, please," as she adjourned the court, and told him to put any other explanations in writing.
On his way out of the courtroom, his fellow lawyers beside him, Wilenchik looked beat down and shell shocked. I introduced myself and tried to ask him a couple of questions, but it was tough to get more than mumbles out of him.
However, he was not standoffish, and I rode down in the elevator with him and the other legal beagles. He then chatted with a U.S. Attorney and moved toward the door. Outside I got a pic of him, walking away, his eyes on the ground before him.
Wilenchik followed up that day with another, far more apologetic response to Silver's initial order for hearing.
It's a curious document, one in which he claims to have been "deeply touched and moved by the court's comments," and insists that he holds the court and its staff "in the highest regard."
He also says that he apologized both before and after the May 23 hearing, and that after the hearing he apologized to U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales, who was in the courtroom.
"[T]here is no doubt that I bear, and properly accept, responsibility for the incident in question," he writes.
Rather than leave things at that, Wilenchik qualifies his admission.
"I cannot change my recall," he continues, "and I cannot agree with something I do not believe happened.".
Which is correct, the pre-hearing Wilenchik, when he wanted Brown investigated, or the post-woodshed Wilenchik?
Then there's this odd passage,
"In fact, I just want the Court to understand that one of the reasons I simply do not instantly reveal who I am occurred immediately following the hearing on May 23, 2013, when a reporter from the `New Times' named Stephen Lemons, aka `The Feathered Bastard' in his column, approached me as I was leaving the courtroom, introduced himself, took a photo of me, and tried to interview me, saying that I was `famous.'"
Since I know Wilenchik on sight, I'm not sure what his point is. And a reporter asking a lawyer for a quote outside a courtroom is pretty standard stuff.
Also, Wilenchik is a public figure, who played a prominent role in former County Attorney Thomas' administration. He's made headlines since then as well, when as attorney for Thomas' now-disbarred former hatchetwoman Lisa Aubuchon, his firm hired a private detective to tail John Gleason, the attorney acting as the State Bar of Arizona's investigator in the Aubuchon-Thomas affair.
Last year, Governor Jan Brewer appointed Wilenchik to an unpaid post as a member of Arizona's Real Estate Advisory Board, which offers suggestions to the Arizona Department of Real Estate. His photo and bio are on the board's web page.
There is even a press release online for the appointment, which offers Wilenchik's son as the contact person.
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Plus, if you Google "Dennis Wilenchik," his firm's web site pops up. It features pics of Wilenchik and of his wife and son, who both work at his firm, magazine articles that have featured him, and podcasts and videos of his radio show on KFNX "Legal-ease," where he's interviewed Governor Brewer, Sheriff Arpaio, Attorney General Tom Horne, and comedian Dennis Miller, among others.
He may not be Lady Ga-Ga, but keeping a low profile, Wilenchik is not.
The "famous" remark? That was me being a wag. As we were all walking out of the courtroom after the hearing, another lawyer nearby asked me not to quote him. I replied that Wilenchik was the only reason I was there. When Wilenchik raised an eyebrow, I said, "See, you're famous!"
If Wilenchik thinks mentioning my remark will get Silver to go easy on him, more power to him. Though judging by Silver's demeanor, I kinda doubt that'll work.