Given the mounting merde piling up at the Orange County District Attorney's office, it's funny what preoccupies prosecutors. They threw the book at former county Assessor Webster James Guillory--who faced up to four years and four months behind bars, based on the felony charges originally filed against him by the OCDA for filing false election paperwork. On Wednesday, the legal equivalent of a thin pamphlet was thrown back at prosecutors.
A jury Wednesday found Guillory guilty of filing false nomination papers in his June 2014 re-election bid, but it was a hallow victory for prosecutors who'd filed felony charges against the 71-year-old, only to have Judge Thomas Glazier knock them down to misdemeanors during a preliminary hearing.
After it became known Guillory planned to retire, county assessor's office employee Mike Hannah pulled papers to run for the top slot. But when Hannah backed out of the race, Guillory decided to quickly gather signatures to get on the ballot.
He needed 20 valid signatures of registered voters on nomination papers that had to be filed by 5 p.m. on March 7, 2014. Guillory collected signatures on two petitions, nine on the first petition and two on the second, that same afternoon.
Guillory also received petitions circulated by Hannah and fellow employee Shaw Linn, who gathered and collected three full pages of 10 signatures each. That's a no-no under state law, which dictates only the candidate him/herself can circulate nomination petitions, s/he must witness them being signed, and s/he must sign each sheet swearing they were collected and witnessed by no one else.
Just before the 5 p.m. deadline, Guillory turned in sheets he had signed even though he was not the one who collected the signatures. And in the midst of the election season, OCDA's Bureau of Investigation received a confidential complaint that led to an investigation of the incumbent.
The OCDA originally filed three felony counts of filing false nomination papers against Guillory, who pleaded not guilty at arraignment. Afterward, the sitting assessor and his attorney, veteran bad cop clearer John Barnett, were adamant the former assessor did nothing wrong criminally.
They got a second to that emotion from then-county supervisor, now-state Sen. John Moorlach, who explained Guillory had planned to retire, was pressured by Republican Party leaders to go for another term because challenger Claude Parrish was "quirky" and rushed to gather signatures before the deadline.
Moorlach, who was hailed as a good government maverick ever since predicting the Orange County bankruptcy of the mid-1990s, reserved his harshest criticism for the OCDA.
"Is this the kind of stuff we should be going after?" he said a month before the November 2014 election. "I just see a guy who's very, very professional who's done a great job as assessor. This is no way for someone who contributed to the community to come to the close of his career. It's kind of a clerical thing. It's not like he took public funds and it's not like he benefited personally."
Moorlach's endorsement could not mitigate the bad publicity. Guillory was ultimately defeated by Parrish, a former chairman of the state Board of Equalization.
New evidence had Senior Deputy District Attorney Brock Zimmon dismissing one of the felony counts against Guillory this past March, and Judge Glazier reduced the remaining two to misdemeanors--over Zimmon's objections.
The OCDA took Tuesday's court victory in stride.
"This case was about upholding the integrity of elections and upholding the standards set for elected officials who serve the public," reads an OCDA statement. "We thank the jury for upholding the integrity of the election system."
One of those jurors, Kevin Ford, said he and others on the panel found it difficult reaching a verdict that could send a man in his 70s to jail. Guillory faces a sentence ranging from probation to up to two years behind bars at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 8.
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Character witnesses for Guillory during trial "brought a tear to my eye," Ford told City News Service. "They had such profound love for this man. They praised him to the sky, and you think, 'How can this be happening?'"
All jurors "agreed it's a pity he decided to run on the last day you had to file. My heart goes out for the guy. He's a decent person."
That and the Newport Beach resident's lack of a criminal record should keep him out of jail. As for the OCDA, it's now on to more serious denials.