Former County Assessor Found Guilty of Filing False Election Papers

Former county Assessor Webster Guillory.

A 12-person jury Wednesday found former County Assessor Webster Guillory guilty on two misdemeanor counts of filing false election papers for signatures that he made during a last-minute effort to file paperwork for reelection in March 2014.

The jury, which began deliberating around noon on Tuesday, came to a verdict late Wednesday morning after a three-day trial at the Superior Court Central Courthouse in Santa Ana.

The 71-year-old Guillory could be sentenced to probation or up to two years in jail. Sentencing is set for Jan. 8, 2016.

The case focused on two nomination papers signed and filed by Guillory in the hours before the Mar. 7 deadline for candidates to file for the June 2014 primary.

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

Although one of his employees, Michael Hannah, collected signatures for those two papers, Guillory was the one who signed them.

Guillory, who was first elected as Assessor in 1998, had intended to retire in 2014 after four terms in the office. It wasn’t until the deadline for filing paperwork for candidacy loomed that Hannah, who he had encouraged to run, told Guillory that he would not run for the office.

Throughout the trial, Guillory’s attorney, John Barnett, argued the signatures were no more than an error in paperwork, and that his client had no motive to knowingly sign the papers when the legal solution — a signature from his Hannah — was just one floor away.

He emphasized Guillory’s reputation as an elected official and his reliance on staff at the Assessor’s office to vet and summarize documents for his signing.

“He did not sign this document and sign away his reputation knowing it was false. Seventy-one years, thirty-six of public service, did not suddenly and for five seconds come to a halt, and he did not knowing sign those documents,” Barnett told the jury.

Assistant District Attorney Brock Zimmon argued in court that Guillory, after four terms in office, was very familiar with the rules of running for office and the importance of filling out the forms correctly.

“These are not some trivial, internal documents. This is a document where, at minimum, if you don’t fill it out right, you don’t get the job,” Zimmon said. “This is a document so important that the law has made a specific crime for falsifying it.”

He also said Guillory should not have qualified to be on the Nov. 2014 ballot in the first place.

“The defendant’s name shouldn’t have been on the ballot. That’s why this matters,” Zimmon said.

Guillory lost that election.

Barnett declined to comment on the jury’s verdict but stated in court that he intends to file a motion for a new trial. Zimmon also declined to comment following the verdict.

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