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.
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