Former Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory was sentenced Friday to 30 days of community service, placed on two years’ informal probation and ordered to pay $500 to the victim witness emergency fund for signing his name on nominating petition forms he did not circulate during a 2014 re-election bid.
Guillory, 71, had faced up to two years in jail and $2,000 in fines for his November conviction on two counts of filing false nomination papers.
During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon argued that Guillory knew he was lying on affidavits declaring he had circulated the nominating petitions. Guillory’s attorney insisted his client simply made a mistake.
Guillory had not initially planned to run for re-election in 2014, but he made a last-minute decision to jump into the race when one of his office managers, Mike Hannah, dropped his bid for the job.
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who slammed prosecutors for bringing the case against Guillory, said he was asked to run for the job when it appeared Claude Parrish would not have any opposition in the election.
“I declined because the time limit was too short,” Moorlach said.
Hannah and another office manager, Shaw Linn, helped collect nominating petition signatures for Guillory as the March 7 filing deadline was approaching. Just 3 1/2 hours before the Registrar of Voters was set to close, the assessor picked up the paperwork to get his name on the ballot, Zimmon said.
Registrar of Voters official Christina Avila gave Guillory the paperwork with instructions on how to obtain signatures legally, Zimmon said. Guillory received a candidates’ handbook that outlined how a circulator of a nominating petition must sign the affidavit that they witnessed the affixing of the signatures, Zimmon said.
Guillory only needed 20 valid signatures, but he filed about twice that number, Zimmon said.
Guillory collected nine signatures, including his own, on two nominating petitions while Hannah and Linn gathered the rest from their co-workers, Zimmon said.
But Guillory broke the law when he signed the affidavit declaring he had witnessed the signature-gathering on the petitions circulated by Hannah and Linn, according to the prosecutor.
Guillory’s attorney, John Barnett, countered that his client was busy running the office while also trying to gather signatures the afternoon of the filing deadline.
“He’s answering phones, he’s conducting business and he’s signing documents, and he’s signing a lot of documents during this time period,” Barnett said.
By about 3:30 p.m., Guillory and Linn were in a conference room of their offices organizing the petitions, Barnett said. In all the confusion, Guillory mistakenly signed nominating petitions Hannah had circulated, the attorney said.
“Did Mr. Guillory sign as a circulator when he knew Hannah was the circulator or did he sign mistakenly believing he was the circulator?” Barnett said. “That’s the issue in this case.”
The defendant has “got no reason, no reason at all to affix his name to Hannah’s petition papers and we know that because of where Mr. Hannah was at the time,” Barnett said.
Hannah was about 150 feet away in the office, Barnett said.
Parrish, a former chairman of the state Board of Equalization, defeated Guillory in the November 2014 general election.
Moorlach said Guillory was an “outstanding public servant, and this is a tragic occurrence to a fantastic career.”
The senator said the case was “overkill by the DA. This is a clerical issue that should have been reported to the (Fair Political Practices Commission).”
Moorlach, a former Orange County supervisor and worked alongside Guillory as the county’s treasurer, criticized prosecutors for the resources devoted to the case.
“It’s so much to do for two misdemeanors. The proportion is so out of line for a man who has had such a distinguished career at the county,” Moorlach said. “I would say the amount budgeted for this case far outweighs the necessity of going after someone on what I would consider a minor misstep — certainly not one that was diabolical or premeditated. He was just hustling to meet a deadline.”
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, noted the charges against Guillory were knocked down from felonies to misdemeanors at the preliminary hearing.
“Senator Moorlach, with all due respect, was not there for the trial and the evidence that was presented,” Schroeder said. “And 12 members of our community decided it was a crime and they needed to hold Mr. Guillory to the law. They found Mr. Guillory guilty of a crime and we respect their verdict.”
—City News Service
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