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OC Assessor Guillory Clear of Criminal Wrongdoing

Webster Guillory - OC Assessor

Voice of OC reported on Friday that the Orange County District Attorney has cleared Orange County Assessor Webster Guillory of criminal wrongdoing related to allegations of mismanagement and official misconduct.

After an inquiry of several weeks into employee allegations of criminal actions by Assessor Webster Guillory, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas today issued a report that cleared the assessor and criticized Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino for publicly disclosing employee concerns about Guillory’s conduct.

The DA review found that Guillory did nothing criminal.

“The District Attorney’s jurisdictandion to investigate  prosecute governmental officials or indict them for removal from office is limited to criminal offenses or willful refusal or deliberate failure to perform the duties of office. The evidence adduced does not support probable cause to believe in the existence of either,” concluded the report written by Bill Feccia, a senior district attorney in charge of the inquiry.

While Guillory has been cleared of criminal misconduct that does not mean that his actions have been completely above board. In particular, the issue of the continuing cost overruns and delays related to computer system upgrades is still substantive. At a minimum, Guillory has exagerated the progress of the project and concealed the underlying failures that do exist.

In his report, Feccia essentially concludes that employees may have had other reasons for accusing Guillory — who initially said the allegations were part of the political season. The district attorney report notes that “it appears that the allegations were brought forward only after employees were informed potential layoffs and/or furloughs were being considered.”

Feccia’s statement is a bit misleading in that it suggests that because the employees who came forward may have been motivated by concerns over potential layoffs, that their complaints were unwarranted or unjustified. I beg to differ with his premise.

I know from personal experience that disclosure of possible management misconduct is not the safest action for any public employee to do. Despite written policies that supposedly protect employees from retaliation, no such protection exists. All too often, concerns raised out of public view are never investigated and the employees who raise them are targeted for retaliation. Essentially the only protection comes from public disclosure, because once the allegations are made public, managers are less likely to feel they can succeed in retaliating with impunity.

In a recent post on the Total Buzz blog regarding a complaint made against Irvine Councilman Steven Choi, Mike Lubinski, assistant district attorney in charge of special prosecutions said that “We would probably have more success (in prosecuting) if people would come directly to us, without making the complaint public.” Indeed, once a complaint is made public, the public officials usually scurry like rodents to clean up their act. By the time the DA gets around to investigating, there is little to find.

The problem with Lubinski’s suggestion is that there is legitimate concern that the District Attorney rarely takes allegations of official misconduct seriously. Absent public attention the District Attorney, with the limited amount of resources available, has no incentive to investigate. The penalties for much of the misconduct that occurs in most cases hardly justifies the resources necessary to investigate, and successful prosecution is even more difficult to achieve.

The concerns that I have raised regarding the apparent misconduct on the part of three members of the Westminster City Council related to violations of the Brown Act, to my knowlege have not been investigated. Maybe they are looking in to the apparent coordination of official actions on the part of these members based upon discussions that could only have occurred outside public view. We’ll have to wait for the District Attorney to let us know.

As Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino said to Voice of OC:

“We hope that employees in other departments will continue to come forward when they suspect misconduct,” Berardino said. “We think taxpayers have a right to know and regardless of the findings in any report, it’s a blessing that we can do this in public.” He added; “public disclosure protects everyone’s interest.”