Niceties Aside: Lamar, Ashton Spar in State Attorney’s Debate
Incumbent Lawson Lamar, running for re-election for the office of Orange-Osceola State Attorney wasted no time on Tuesday night in firing the opening salvo at former prosecutor Jeff Ashton, his opponent, in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested race. Lamar said Ashton is soft on crime while he is not.
In a one hour live debate, Lamar and Ashton differed on a range of issues, from the current state of the office to the role of the State Attorney in trying cases in the court room.
Ashton said, currently morale is low in the office and attorneys operate more like bureaucrats rather than lawyers who care about doing the right thing, with a sense of personal responsibility. He believes that the head of the office – the state attorney – should actually try cases in court.
“You have to be aware of what’s going on. You can’t do this by remote control,” he said. Ashton added that Lamar is out of touch with what’s taking place in the court room.
Lamar disputed Ashton’s characterization of the office saying morale is high and with 88,500 cases annually, the state attorney has to function also as a manager. Lamar said he leads every grand jury proceeding and personally supervises every one of those cases. He has done this 973 times.
“Morale is high and my team actually gets it done – that’s to protect the people of Orange-Osceola County,” he said.
Ashton described Lamar’s leadership as “failed” citing the low conviction rates, particularly in relation to murders, rapes and burglaries. He pointed out that 50 percent of those prosecuted go to prison for less than 30 months.
“How does that make you safe?” Ashton asked rhetorically. “We are not protected by this… we need to choose the people who go to prison.”
Lamar responded that his office tries hard cases and so will lose about fifty percent of them. He said Orange-Osceola County had the second highest wins at trial across the state.
The two contenders also fielded questions related to the prosecution of prescription drug abusers; wrongful convictions on account of mistaken identification; plea bargaining; Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law; role of politics and media in prosecuting cases and the death penalty and associated issues.
No doubt with an eye on Republican voters, Lamar also tried to project that of the two candidates, he is the fiscally conservative one, while making reference to Ashton’s personal finances.
Ashton said Lamar had pretended to retire, collected $500,000 of taxpayers’ dollars and now a salary and pension.
Lamar will face Ashton in a Democratic primary set for August 14, 2012. The winner of that open primary race will be the next State Attorney for the next four years. There isn’t a Republican candidate in the race. Early voting runs from August 4-11.