Maricopa County Craziness

Dennis Wilenchik's Firm Fired for "Excessive" Fees by Maricopa County in Lisa Aubuchon Case; Ethically Suspect Lawyer is Ex-Special Prosecutor From '07 New Times Case

Dennis Wilenchik's ties to his former employee, failed political candidate and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, has brought him lots of dough.

But in raking in his taxpayer-assisted fortune, he's more than earned his reputation as a shady lawyer. We remember him well as the disgraced special prosecutor whose actions behind the arrests of New Times' executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin brought shame and an extremely rare, public apology from Thomas.

He made the headlines this week: For getting fired for ethically suspect work on the county dime. Again.

As with the New Times case, Wilenchik's firm vacuumed up plenty of your cash before being terminated. A recent letter by the county attorney's office explains that the firm, Wilenchik and Bartness, has charged "excessive" fees in the defense of fired deputy county attorney Lisa Aubuchon, who's under investigation by the State Bar and Justice Department.

So far, the letter states, the county has paid $263,000 in the Aubuchon matter to Wilenchik's firm.


That included the cost of hiring private investigators to tail John Gleason, the Colorado lawyer assigned by the State Bar to investigate Aubuchon.

But the county is drawing the line on a new bill for $64,682.50, which it says won't be paid. The bill was sent after the county ordered Wilenchik and Bartness to report more details about the work being done, but the firm ignored that order, the letter states.

The news for these lawyers gets even worse than simply getting stiffed on some of their champagne money: The county is checking into whether it can take back the cash it's already paid, because it turns out Wilenchik and crew never signed a proper contract for the work. 

Wilenchik did not respond to an e-mail we sent yesterday. [SEE UPDATE AFTERTHE LETTER

Scroll down to read the letter.

Wilenchik Firing Letter

UPDATE: 11:30 am -- Wilenchik responds by e-mail:

Mr. Stern_ mark Goldman will respond to this e mail which I found just now in my junk folder. He is en route in his car now headed toward a meeting so will respond fully to this later in the day. The bottom line is there is no validity to the county atty's letter, and it is just more of the same vindictiveness we have come to expect. Thank you

We'll just add here that while we have no reason to doubt his tale about the e-mail junk folder, Wilenchik has responded without problem to previous e-mails we've sent him at the same address.

UPDATE 2 -- Wilenchik replies, and he sounds pissed. Here's his unedited e-mail:

While Mr. Goldman can provide you with further detail as he was principally involved with Ms. Aubuchon's matters, Your ridiculous and misleading article was read by me. First, you did go into my junk mail - where you obviously belong. That is a fact. The mere fact I responded There is nothing unethical we did or "shady" nor was that ever suggested. In fact, if you get your facts straight, you will know I had nothing to do with the "arrests" of your bosses. Second, all bills were approved by the independent lawyer appointed to review them for the county atty. Further, we were on the county approved list when hired and then wrongfully and unilaterally removed so as to fire us. There are numerous other lies in the county letter. As you will see, other firms representing the sheriff or Mr. Thomas were also fired. Further, the county atty could not possibly know our bills were exorbitant since he agreed he would not review them or their content because of his acknowledged conflict. He also left it to the so called independent atty appointed to avoid his conflict to review and approve our bills, which he did and he never fired us or sought anything we did not agree to provide. This is just an example of Mr. Romley and the County taking actions before he leaves office to harm the defense of the county and Ms. Aubuchon and is simply vindictive. We have done nothing wrong or inappropriate. If you at all understood the gravity and complexity of the investigation we were defending you would know that. But I guess its just easier to tell lies that sound good to your readers. You should be embarrassed and retract your wrongful and libelous comments if you had any conscience at all.

We appreciate Wilenchik's belated response, but we're sticking with our opinion of Wilenchik as an "ethically suspect" lawyer who was behind the arrests of Lacey and Larkin. True, Wilenchik may or may not have actually ordered the arrests. Wilenchik claims an underling authorized the arrests, and David Hendershott, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's chief henchman, claims he ordered the arrests. In any case, Wilenchik was the special prosecutor whose actions resulted in the arrests.

If you'll recall, Wilenchik's the guy who tried -- unsuccessfully -- to subpoena the IP addresses of every person who accessed the New Times Web site in a three-year period.

We could have been harder on him.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.