Two felony charges of filing false nomination papers for the June 2014 primary election against former Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory have been reduced to misdemeanors, with a third charge scrapped by the prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
At a pre-trial hearing Tuesday morning to determine if the case has enough evidence to move forward to a trial, which lasted nearly five hours, Judge Gassia Apkarian heard from six witnesses called by the prosecution, including three DA investigators, two employees of the Assessor’s Office, and Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.
Guillory, who served as Assessor from 1998 until 2014, was arrested and charged in Sept. 2014, based on allegations that he signed, under oath, nomination papers for his candidacy that were in fact circulated by another individual.
At Tuesday’s hearing, DA prosecutors argued that Guillory committed a felony crime by falsely signing papers that said he personally collected signatures in support of his candidacy.
They also made the case that his signature was not just a mistake during an eleventh hour rush to make a filing deadline, but a deliberate decision despite his knowledge, as a longtime elected official who has run for office several times, that he was not the one that collected the signatures.
“The only protection against election fraud is someone’s word – this is it,” said Senior District Attorney Brock Zimmon. “If this doesn’t mean something, I don’t know what does.”
Guillory’s attorney John Barnett, meanwhile, evoked his client’s “unimpeachable” reputation of integrity and honesty and called the prosecution’s argument “ridiculous.”
“This is the most technical of alleged violations you’ll ever see,” said Barnett.
He argued that Guillory had no intent to mislead the Registrar, given that, had he been aware of the law, he could have sought out the employee who circulated the papers, in an office one floor below his own.
“Mr. Guillory served the county for forty years. If he’s trying to mislead, why would he intentionally do it, why wouldn’t he just walk downstairs?” Barnett said.
Apkarian was skeptical of whether Guillory’s signing of the papers should amount to a felony, and ultimately reduced two of the charges to misdemeanors.
Zimmon withdrew the third felony charge during the course of the trial, after testimony from a witness from the Assessor’s Office failed to produce enough evidence.
Another pre-trial hearing, where a judge will hear evidence for the remaining two misdemeanor counts, is scheduled for April 27.