Ashton brings needed challenge to race

So pit-bull prosecutor Jeff Ashton wants to run for office.

Two thoughts come to mind:

1. The guy had better bring something other than the Casey Anthony hype — because losing the trial of the century ain't exactly a bragging right.

2. I'm glad he's running.

Competition is good for democracy. And State Attorney Lawson Lamar has been in the courtroom for decades.

Actually, Lamar hasn't been in the courtroom. That's one of the knocks against him.

He's a prosecutor who doesn't actually prosecute.

I could handle that part if Lamar was some kind of managerial dynamo. But his prosecutorial stewards don't always prosecute either — especially when it comes to people of privilege.

My longtime beef with Lamar, a Democrat, is that he dispenses two kinds of justice — throw-the-book-at-'em gusto for the poor and unconnected, and get-out-of-jail-free passes for the wealthy and influential.

No one better illustrated the latter than Dr. William Mackey, the Winter Park surgeon convicted of trying to hire a hit man.

If you'd done that, you'd be clanging a tin cup along your cell bars. But after convicting Mackey, Lamar's office decided prison wasn't appropriate for someone "of Dr. Mackey's stature."

How nice for Dr. Mackey.

That was just the beginning. Lamar also went easy on everyone from a judge who advised an accused criminal to flee the country to a nonprofit executive who embezzled from United Arts.

Commoners didn't fare so well.

Lamar sought a life sentence for a repeat offender who stole $20 — a sentence even the judge called unjust and unfair. He went gangbusters after a 75-year-old grandmother accused of selling porn tapes, a case was so weak the charges were later dropped.

Justice may be blind. But under Lamar, she had a pretty good nose for money and influence.

After much scorn, Lamar improved on this front. His office undid some of the inappropriately harsh penalties. And he started meting out justice to more of the well-connected.

In fact, for a while, he became a conscience for politicians without one, pushing for stronger ethics laws and exposing and skewering the "culture of corruption" at the expressway authority.

Still, he doesn't rock the boat too often — especially with coveted voting blocs like law enforcement. We have seen cops shoot fleeing suspects in the back, throw them to the ground, break an old man's back and knock out a young woman's teeth. Not a one of them ever prosecuted.

A challenge could do Lamar — and the system — some good.

Lamar certainly can't try to marginalize Ashton — not after choosing him to handle the biggest case his office ever had, while Lamar stayed safe in his office.

Ashton, however must bring more than whining about his loss in the Anthony case. Criticizing the jury and calling Jose Baez names is weak. And unbecoming.

Ashton earned generally good reviews for his performance in the Anthony case; fearless and well-versed in the law. But if he wants to run the big show, he must describe his vision.

He started to do so on the steps of the courthouse Tuesday morning, talking about the need for better judgment, less bureaucracy, a higher win rate and a generally more effective and efficient office.

Still, Ashton, also a Democrat, lacked specifics. He had plenty of broad criticism of poorly handled cases, but was either unable or unwilling to cite examples. He needs to do better.

And Lamar needs to step up — not duck debates like he did four years ago.

Both men, along with lesser-known candidate Ryan Williams, need to articulate their visions and be held accountable to voters.

That's something competition breeds — and why I'm glad Ashton is running.

smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141

Original source: Ashton brings needed challenge to race on Orlando Sentinel

Connect
Advertisement

VIDEO