Trial Begins for Former County Assessor Webster Guillory

The trial against former Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory for two misdemeanor counts of filing false election papers began Thursday morning before Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Glazier at the Central Courthouse in Santa Ana.

Brock Zimmon, the prosecutor for the Orange County District Attorney’s office, and Guillory’s defense attorney John Barnett, delivered opening statements centered on the events during the four-term incumbent’s last-minute dash to run for office on March 7, 2014, the filing deadline for that year’s June primary.

The trial focuses on two nomination papers. Guillory’s subordinate, project manager Michael Hannah, collected signatures from employees of the Assessor’s Office needed to nominate Guillory and put him on the ballot for reelection.

In order to run for office in Orange County, candidates are required to collect 20 signatures from registered voters. Any one person can collect those signatures on the candidate’s behalf, but that individual must also sign that they personally witnessed those signatures.

Altogether, Guillory, Hannah and another employee Shaw Lin, circulated six nomination papers that day. Among those, Guillory only personally circulated two.

According to the prosecution, Guillory, an experienced elected official who is familiar with election paperwork, knowingly signed two other petitions, despite knowing that Hannah was the one who collected the signatures.

“He made a last minute decision to run for office. And he only personally circulated two papers…but he signed four,” Zimmon told the jury in his opening statement.

Zimmon, the DA prosecutor, argued to a judge at a pretrial hearing in March that, despite the seemingly technical nature of the charges, a candidate or elected official’s signature is an oath not to be taken lightly.

“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.”

Barnett argues that, while there’s no question Guillory’s signature is on the nomination papers, he didn’t knowingly commit the error.

It makes no sense that Guillory would sign the papers if he knew they should be signed by Hannah, given that his employee, the actual collector of the signatures, was just an elevator away, Barnett told the jury.

“At the moment that Mr. Guillory was signing the papers, he’s 166 feet away. If Mr. Guillory knew this was the Hannah Petition, he would have said, Shaw, take this down and have Hannah sign it,” Barnett said.

Guillory, 70, has pled not guilty. If convicted, he could face a maximum sentence of 2 years in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The DA originally filed three felony counts against Guillory, but one of those charges was dropped and the remaining two were reduced by another judge who said there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Guillory of felony crimes.

The trial is expected to continue on Monday in courtroom C56.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Brock Zimmon is a top notch attorney and one of the finest people at the DA’s office. I have had the privilege of dealing with him and he is very ethical.

    That being said…

    The fact that the District Attorney is going full blast on this guy, for such a stupid thing, while he ignored nursing home patients being stolen from and killed by his campaign donors, is utterly disgusting. T-Rack ignores the real problems, then makes mountain out of political molehills.

    Jeez! This county is more crooked and corrupt than Chicago in the times of Al Capone! And it starts with our District Attorney.

  • octaxpayer

    I have seen this practice of signing documents from other top level directors management . In some cases basically saying there departments meet compliance to the federal or state government . I have witness the disregard of accuracy and sign offs all over the County. Odd they should now go after someone now as this is a fairly minor incident. But than again we have seen others prosecuted for things such as voter fraud and seem to still move ahead in the County.

  • Cecilia Watt

    What is the purpose behind having the candidate sign that he / her witnessed the signatures?

    • LFOldTimer

      I dunno. Beats me. Maybe the same reason it’s unlawful for us to remove our mattress tags. If all else fails it gives the gov another hammer. It’s part of the price we pay for freedom.

  • LFOldTimer

    If Barnett could manage to get an acquittal for his client who along with 5 other guys held down a skinny homeless schizophrenic while he was being bludgeoned and choked to death on video while an audio device recorded the victim screaming “I’m sorry” and yelling for his dad to come help with a ton of human weight on him – this one oughta be a Sunday walk in the park. I expect the jury to be in deliberations for only 5 minutes.

  • Bob Brock

    jeez… this is the equivalent of arresting a jaywalker while open gang warfare is occurring on the same street. Rackaukas is a joke.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Well, he has an excellent attorney. I hope this goes sideways for the County. It has all the hallmarks of a witch hunt. I think Mr.Guillory made some powerful enemies due to his independent style. I also suspect that he was never a a$$ kisser. Crappy deal for a over 35 year public servant.

  • LFOldTimer

    Thank God Webster didn’t handcuff a proselytizer. No telling what would’ve happened.

    • David Zenger

      Poor Webster seems like an odd choice for Rackuakas to get all loud and legal on – especially now that he’s been gotten rid of.

      Patsy?

      • LFOldTimer

        Webster’s mistake is that he didn’t register as a Republican. I won’t even bite on the racial angle.