Feathered Bastard

Disgraced ex-special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik's op-ed tripe in the Arizona Republic.

Who will Wilenchik blame the Lacey-Larkin arrests on next? Mr. Green Jeans? His manservant Cato? Col. Mustard in the kitchen with a wrench?

In case you missed it, disgraced ex-special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik has a little op-ed in the Arizona Republic today. In it, he woodenly attempts to rationalize his actions in the October debacle that saw my bosses Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin arrested on bum raps. Wilenchik's dissembling diatribe couldn't have been timed any more perfectly. He digs his hole deeper and deeper one day after New Times announced its Notice of Claim against Wilenchik, his former boss County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the co-defendants in the case. (See this week's cover story, "Blowback!")

In his stilted, poorly-written opinion piece, Wilenchik flays away at former employee William French, heretofore a respected ex-prosecutor and judge. Last week in the Arizona Republic, French pointed the finger at his erstwhile boss, holding Wilenchik responsible for the arrests of Lacey and Larkin for the alleged misdemeanor of revealing grand jury subpoenas in their October 18 feature "Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution." French, who resigned following the arrests, told the Arizona Republic in a February 11 Q&A that he believed Wilenchik had used him, and that ultimately Wilenchik was responsible for the Lacey-Larkin collars, even though such an offense would normally garner the issuance of citations, not the wrist-cuffing of suspects.

"Somers told me that Wilenchik said, `No more Mr. Nice Guy. we're going to arrest them,'" recalled French, referring to his colleague at Wilenchik's law firm, attorney Rob Somers. "That's what happened. From what I read, Dennis said something like, `There was a mistake from someone in my office.' You don't make that kind of mistake."

French's account seems self-serving, and leads to still more questions. At one point, he mentioned that Somers "started writing the citation[s]," which were to be delivered to Lacey and Larkin. Such misdemeanor citations don't need to be composed by a lawyer. Rather, they are hand-written, usually by the officer issuing them. In the cases of both Lacey and Larkin, they received hand-written citations from the arresting deputies. Each one was signed by a deputy, so why would Somers need to "draft" them? It doesn't seem to jibe with the fact that such citations are standard forms, so standard that an officer on the beat can fill them out.

Furthermore, French's name is listed right beneath Wilenchik's in the Application for Order to Show Cause, which Wilenchik submitted to Judge Anna Baca on the day that Lacey and Larkin published Wilenchik's unconstitutional and over-broad subpoenas. This Application demands the arrest of Lacey, Larkin and their lawyers, and it asks for crushing fines to be imposed on New Times as long as the issue is in the stands and the subpoenas up on New Times' Web site. In the course of a year, these fines would have equaled $90 million, likely bankrupting the paper. How could French have not known about this Application, which was faxed to all parties around 2 p.m. on the same day of the night of the Lacey-Larkin arrests?

But back to the Wilenchik op-ed, which leaves me thinking that the dood must be a Gemini.

Throughout the piece, Wilenchik desperately wants to have it both ways, arguing that it was the Sheriff's Office that made the decision to arrest Lacey and Larkin, and that he and his underlings had nada to do with it. At the same time, Wilenchik asserts that the arrests were justified and lawful.

"The decision to bring the owners of the New Times downtown was therefore not only called for under the law," writes Wilenchik, "but was the decision of the Sheriff's Office, not mine..."

Jeez, guy, pick a lane, will ya? They say defeat is an orphan, but in Wilenchik's case it's also got one eye, three arms, and an albino unibrow. Still, I wanna see the DNA test on that puppy. MCSO flack Paul Chagolla has denied that the Sheriff's Office made the call on the collars, and instead pointed the finger back to Rob Somers and William French. Asked by New Times if he knew who insisted on the arrests, Wilenchik wrote to us in an e-mail after the fact, "Don't know. If I find out, will be back."

Now Wilenchik wants to pin the blame solely on the MCSO. French told the Republic that "Dennis had a deputy from the Sheriff's Office come in and explain to me what the options were." Admittedly, that sounds pretty lame. Wouldn't a former judge know what the options were? Why would he need a lowly deputy to tell him how a citation is issued?

Wilenchik reams French a new one on this point, stating in his "My Turn" column that "I did not request a deputy from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office come to our office to talk to French or seek his advice." Rather, "The deputy was sent by the Sheriff's Office to drop off papers at my office..." Papers? What was it, your dry cleaning bill, Dennis?

The disgraced former special prosecutor continues in the op-ed, hammering home the point that it was the MCSO that made the call on apprehending Lacey and Larkin. Not that he's implying there was anything wrong with it...

"Once the Sheriff's Office made the determination to lawfully arrest for the offenses," states Wilenchik in the Republic piece, "their options were a matter for them to determine under the law and they properly made their determination on how to thereafter proceed -- not me or French."

But back in October of last year, Wilenchik was singing a different tune, releasing a statement to the press that's contradicted by this new claim of his that responsibility for the arrests lies with the MCSO:

"The arrests of Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin...were the result of a miscommunication. My knowledge and intent was to have them cited for violating A.R.S. § 13-2812, understanding that if they refused to accept the citations, they could be taken to jail and booked, then cited. The direction from me was apparently misunderstood by the other Special Prosecutors, which resulted in a request that the MCSO deputies arrest, book and cite Messrs. Lacey and Larkin, rather than attempting to just issue them citations. The actions against Messrs. Lacey and Larkin were completely legal, and some might argue more than justified, given the offenses they knowingly and openly admitted they committed, as detailed above. Nonetheless, the County Attorney, Sheriff Arpaio and I had no personal knowledge that Messrs. Lacey and Larkin would be arrested that evening until after they were, nor would they or I have condoned such action in advance I am sure as a matter of policy of the County Attorney’s Office."

You can read Wilenchik's entire October 25 statement, here.

Back in October, Wilenchik was trying to blame it all on his flunkies Somers and French. Now, here on February 21, the arrests were the choice of the Sheriff's Office. Wonder if Wilenchik saw New Times' Notice of Claim coming? Sure seems like he's trying to distance his law firm from October's legal disaster.

He's in fine company. In his press conference ten hours after the October 18 arrests, County Attorney Thomas asserted that he'd had no advance knowledge of the rousts, and proceeded to fire Wilenchik as special prosecutor and quash the subpoenas. Arpaio whined at the time that he was the true "victim" in the controversy. Then just last week, French pipes up, sniveling, "I know I did nothing wrong," and throwing his ex-boss Wilenchik under the proverbial bus.

Not many soldiers left in Wilenchik's foxhole nowadays. You know, if I were Rob Somers, I'd be bucking for partner in Wilenchik's firm right about now.

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