Attorneys Tuesday morning delivered closing arguments in the criminal trial of former Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory, who faces two misdemeanor counts of falsifying election paperwork for his 2014 re-election bid.
Jurors began deliberating around noon and will continue Wednesday after a three-day trial before Judge Thomas Glazier at the Superior Court Central Courthouse in Santa Ana.
If convicted of both counts, Guillory, 71, faces a maximum penalty of 2 years in jail and a $2000 fine.
The trial focused on two nomination papers Guillory submitted in his last-minute dash to file for candidacy on March 7, 2014, the filing deadline for that year’s June 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.
Guillory is accused of signing and swearing, under penalty of perjury, two nomination papers, despite knowing that his employee Michael Hannah was the one who gathered the signatures.
Guillory’s defense all along has been that while the signatures are undoubtedly his, he signed the papers during a hectic day at the office and did not knowingly commit the error.
Orange County District Attorney prosecutor Brock Zimmon told the jury Tuesday that it should have been easy for Guillory to identify which papers he did or did not circulate, given that each page had different signatures and his familiarity with the process of running for election.
“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.”
Defense attorney John Barnett argued that Guillory had no motive to knowingly sign the papers when the legal solution — a signature from his employee Michael Hannah — was just one floor away. He emphasized both 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.
Zimmon, meanwhile, rebuffed the defense’s descriptions of Guillory’s workload that day, full of phone calls, regular priorities of the Assessor’s office and staff members walking in and out with documents for him to sign.
“We’re not dealing with a stack of 100 documents. This was a normal day at the Assessor’s office, the same job he has worked for 16 years,” Zimmon said. “This is not a lot of things where you’re getting lost in a sea of paperwork.”
“This was the one thing that, if it wasn’t returned at 5 pm, it would change the next four years of his life,” Zimmon added.
Barnett continued with the argument that Guillory simply made a mistake. To bolster his case, he pointed to errors made by an employee of the Registrar’s office, Christina Avila, on an internal form for Guillory’s candidacy.
“[Avila] made a mistake on that day, the same day that Guillory made a mistake,” Barnett said. “Nobody makes a mistake? There it is. And nobody is being prosecuted for that.”
Contact Thy Vo at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.
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