Judge Throws Out Felony Charges Against Webster Guillory, Because We Live in Orange County, So of Course

Guillory get out of jail free cardThe OC Register reported yesterday that Superior Court Judge Gassia Apkarian has thrown out the three felony charges against Former OC Assessor Webster Guillory for election fraud — the misdemeanor charges remain — on the grounds (paraphrasing here) that surely someone who has contributed so much to Orange County would not have violated this law intentionally.  (My only source for what happened in the courtroom is the Register’s own story, but surely Martin Wisckol’s reporting of the details should be deemed sufficiently credible.)

PREVIOUS OJB STORIES RELATED TO THIS MATTER:

A Day at the Races 4, March 2 — With Five Days Left, Who’s In, Who’s On, Who’s Missing?

Vote Lopez for Assessor, Because Whether by Guilt or Guile, Guillory’s Goose is Cooked

JORGE LOPEZ Complaint on Guillory Sigs: the Final Pre-Election Word from the DA is … Silence!

Jorge Lopez’s Accusations Lead OCDA to Charge Webster Guillory with Three Felonies. Now Vote for Guillory.

Who Diverted Webster Guillory from the Road to Retirement to the Pathway to Prison?

1. The Background (and Some Digressions)

Guillory, as you may remember, was discovered by his primary opponent and former senior-manager-turned-fired-whistleblower Jorge Lopez to have collected his nomination signatures on the last afternoon of filing by going around his office and asking his employees to sign — which is a mite coercive.  The initial report was that this opportuning of subordinates’ signatures took place within the office itself, which is doubly wrongful; later Team Guillory contended that people were called away from their stations to go outside to sign.  (I vaguely recall someone, perhaps me, asking “so they went outside on work time?” when another clarification came that no, everyone who was ushered out of the building by Guillory’s supervisory staff or their agents to sign took their breaks to do so.  Whew!)

The story was later clarified again to say that while Guillory signed the majority of the required forms saying that he had personally witnessed the up-to-ten voters signing each sheet, in fact it had been others who procured most of the signatures and Guillory had just signed the forms instead of them.  This, sadly for him — or at least some might think it’s sad — is a felony.

As aside: this is the same violation, in fact, that took down Rhonda Carmony (now Rohrabacher) and others when they collected signatures for Laurie Campbell to aid a Scott Baugh Assembly campaign back in a 1995 special election that followed the recall of “renegade Republican” Doris Allen.  (Campbell was a Democratic spoiler recruited onto the ballot by a business PAC to draw Democratic votes away from the legitimate Democrat in the race, which Baugh won.  Then-OC District Attorney Michael Capizzi was having none of it, and came in for blistering criticism from Rep. Rohrabacher.  OC COO Mark Denny, then working as an agent for Curt Pringle who was trying to — and did — assemble enough votes to be elected Assembly Speaker, was another one who pleaded guilty to election law crimes.  Clearly, this was sort of a pivotal moment in establishing OC’s current Republican kleptocratic masters!  OK, back to Guillory.)

2. The Register Article’s Courtroom Reporting!

You should read Wisckol’s Register article yourself — here’s the link again — as well as, if you want a sense of how things went back in the good old Capizzi days, both of the links found in the indented digression above.  I’m going to number the points in the article (somewhat out of order), the better to kick the stuffing out of some of them below.

  1. Two of Guillory’s former assistants helped him collect nomination signatures for his re-election bid, which went to a runoff in June and ended in his defeat in November.
  2. Only Guillory and one assistant, Shaw Lin, signed the form attesting under penalty of perjury that they had personally witnessed each person’s signature.
  3. “Guillory’s attorney said that his client did not knowingly violate the law, which is required for there to be a crime. Attorney John Barnett also argued that Guillory had no motive for committing the fraud – that he could have easily gotten the signature of the other assistant if he knew it was needed.”
  4. “Judge … Apkarian agreed that there was no apparent reason for Guillory, county assessor for 16 years before being defeated last year, to willfully break the law, adding ‘I think the defendant’s contribution to the community has been outstanding and his trustworthiness flies in the face of the charges’.”
  5. Apkarian retained the misdemeanor charges “because of the likelihood that Guillory knew the rules after having run for office four times before.”
  6. The Deputy District Attorney trying the case, Brock Zimmon, had no comment on the dismissal of charges.
  7. Prior to the election, Guillory had been planning on retiring.
  8. Guillory encouraged Michael Hannah, formerly (though I’m not sure whether it was “formerly” a year ago) one of his top managers, to run.
  9. Presumably (but not necessarily) on the morning of Friday March 7, with filing due to close at 5 p.m., Hannah backed out of the race.
  10. With hours remaining before the March 7 deadline, Guillory decided to seek reelection.
  11. Guillory had about three hours to collect the signatures of 30 Orange County voter.
  12. Guillory, Hannah, and Lin “then set about collecting signatures – mostly from fellow workers in the assessor‘s office, gathered at the parking lot adjoining their building.”
  13. Guillory falsely signed as the collector for four of the sets of signatures gathered; Lin claimed credit for two others.
  14. “Barnett argued that Hannah was in the office and could have signed his forms, and that his missing signatures was an inadvertent technicality.”
  15. Guillory took the documents to the Registrar of Voters office, entering before 5:00 p.m.

3. Some Questions, Concerns, Additions, and Rebuttals!

I’m going to add my comments by number; refer back to the list above to see where they fit in.

  1. My information at the time was that Lin was Guillory’s current second-in-command at the time — supervisor over every Assessor’s Office employee contacted except those at the highese level, in other words — at the time that he allegedly went around the office asking them to come out to the parking lot and sign renomination forms for Guillory.  Putting on my plaintiff’s employment lawyer hat, anyone who said no — or even who reacted with less than appropriate enthusiasm — and later experienced an adverse employment action from Guillory’s staff before he left office could have a claim.  I haven’t seen Hannah’s name come up as a possible candidate before this, but it’s clear that Team Guillory wanted to block Claude Parrish from getting into office — and either investigating improper actions or just turning over the employees and some of the policies — and so it’s not surprising.  What is surprising is the lack of any mention of Denis Bilodeau, who my records at the time showed had already paid his filing fee to run as Assessor by Wednesday of that week.  Unless Bilodeau — an Orange City Councilman and aide then-Board of Supervisors Chair Shawn Nelson — had been acting without consulting with the Guillory faction (which I doubt), the prospect of his running belongs in the story.  In fact, had Guillory not filed for re-election on Friday March 7, Bilodeau (or anyone else except for Guillory) would have had until Wednesday March 12, the end of the extended filing period when eligible incumbents don’t run, to enter the race — which makes some of the haste questionable.  So long as there was another plausible candidate — and the anti-Parrish forces would have had all weekend and more to beat the bushes for one, or else go with Lopez — there was no real rush.  There was only a rush if they specifically wanted Guillory on the ballot.
  2. Who signs the back of the sheet becomes pretty important in cases where someone claims “I didn’t sign” or “I was coerced into signing” or “I signed while I was on state government property in the office.”  The back of the nomination signature sheet itself makes it VERY CLEAR that one is signing under penalty of perjury.
  3. So Guillory presumably either didn’t read the perjury warning before signing or did so without comprehending it.  Seems “legit.”  But “no motive for committing the fraud”?  Of course he had a motive: he wanted to get back onto the ballot and he had a limited amount of time to do it.  And the notion that he could have asked Hannah to sign — presuming that Hannah was willing to sign — depends on the notion that each form was being circulated by a single person (or persons present together at the time of each signature.)  This would not be possible, for example, if Guillory had collected the first three signatures on a given form and Hannah the last seven.  No one person could have attested to all ten signatures — which is exactly why each person or group-that-stays-together is supposed to collect signatures on separate forms.  They wouldn’t have necessarily had time to fix this problem. I wonder whether Barnett’s assertion was based on actual testimony — or just asking the court to make what seems like a logical inference until you think it through and realize that it isn’t.  (And the companion question is: did DDA Zimmon ever challenge this assertion?  Did he ask people why Hannah hadn’t signed his own forms, if he was present and willing?)
  4. The Judge’s statement that “I think the defendant’s contribution to the community has been outstanding and his trustworthiness flies in the face of the charges” of willful is very depressing — although ultimately the blame here falls on the OCDA’s office.  There are plenty of reason to at least doubt Guillory’s “trustworthiness” — and many of them were detailed in the whistleblower complaint that Jorge Lopez presented to the DA last decade regarding irregularities in the Assessor’s Office, particularly involving the computer system.  The OCDA’s whitewashed its investigation.  I’ll give DDA Zimmon the benefit of any doubt in presuming that he did not blow the felony case intentionally — although the relationship between OCDA and Guillory was apparently good enough to lead to the whitewashing, which was surprising on its merits — but clearly Zimmon would not have been able to raise this sort of character-impeaching material without shedding light on the OCDA’s office in — wrongly, let’s posit — clearing Guillory of all charges.  (He could have tried, I suppose — but it may have led to the case being taken away from him and would not be good for his job prospects either.  Remember, this is an office that asserts that it’s all just a coincidence that Judge Goethals is being knocked off of criminal cases.)  If no one with any official power really engages allegations against Guillory, no wonder Judge Apkarian can presume that he wouldn’t lie.
  5. Judge Apkarian need not presume that Guillory knew the rules because he has run four times previously.  She can presume that he knew the rules because he can read and they’re printed right there on the form.
  6. I hope that Wisckol will consider asking the DA for his opinion.  But I also wonder how much of what I’m writing, much of which was publicly available here, Zimmon even knew prior to the hearing.  If not — why not?
  7. This matches what I had heard — which is why so many people expected the filing deadline to be extended five days.
  8. I have some doubts about this — and, if so, when it happened.  Bilodeau had paid his filing fee on Wednesday.  Was Guillory hostile to Bilodeau’s prospective campaign?  If so, his late entry into the race faked him out quite well.  Was Guillory supportive of Bilodeau’s prospective campaign?  If so, then Hannah’s agreement to run may have lasted little more than a day — if even that.  Wisckol’s reporting makes it sound like this was a long-planned succession — and I have my doubts.
  9. This is useful to nail down because we don’t know whether Guillory had planned on filing at the last minute for some time — perhaps to keep Bilodeau from completing his application — in which event he probably had some some of campaign advising at hand.  His story is (or maybe just implies) that this was all thrown together at the last moment, which may explain some of the chaos — but we don’t really know that.  If his main goal was to block the election of his narrowly defeated 2010 opponent Parrish, planning this sort of unexpected cancellation of the expected filing extension was useful towards getting the race to end in June.  (Without Lopez on the ballot to take about 9% of the vote, in fact, Guillory would very likely have been re-elected in June!)
  10. Again, this may be his assertion, but there is reason to doubt it.  He needed to be asked about his attitude towards Bilodeau’s candidacy.  If he was anti-Bilodeau as well as anti-Parrish, he knew as soon as Bilodeau filed that he’d have to run, because Hannah would not likely have made a runoff against two established politicians.
  11. This is true.  I was right ahead of Guillory in line to collect my own signature forms — Vern and Marselle and I got 31 in less than three hours — and I know he got a late start.  The process takes a while.
  12. They’re not “fellow workers,” for God’s sake — they’re subordinates.  And were they “gathered in the parking lot” all at once — how was that arranged, if so? — or did they come out there singly or in small batches?  Does the DA’s office even know?  Did Guillory, Lin, Hannah and employees who had sign and who did not sign ever say?
  13. I recalled it being 4 and 1, but I’ll take Wisckol’s word for it (if he’s sure.)
  14. Again, Hannah couldn’t have signed the forms honestly under penalty of perjury unless he had himself witnessed each of the signatures on the form.  It’s certainly possible that no form had been entirely his.  If that’s so, he might be understandably more hesitant than Guillory to commit an “inadvertent technicality” of a mistake.  So what is even the supposed story for why Hannah didn’t sign?  And how many signatures did Guillory personally collect, by the way?  Did the OCDA even find out?  Did Zimmon raise these doubts before the court?  And was “inadvertent technicality” — it definitely wasn’t the latter and may not have been the former either — Attorney Barnett’s gloss, or did this reflect someone’s sworn testimony?
  15. Yep.  And if you’ll check out the top link among the OJB stories listed up there, you’ll see Vern’s picture of Guillory sitting there with Hugh Nguyen — who was being bedeviled by the late blitzkrieg of Troy Edgar and Brett Barbre — in their attempt to squeeze Edgar onto the ballot in the City Clerk’s race by collecting signatures inside the ROV’s office after 5:00.

Maybe there’s a benign explanation for all of this.  All I can say is that people who have been friendly to the OCDA’s office keep on getting not prosecuted or let off of serious charges due to OCDA errors — and those who have opposed the OCDA’s office seem to get prosecuted more regularly and more effectively.  I hope that Tony Rackauckas or his designated successor doesn’t get to run “virtually unopposed” in the next election.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)