ORLANDO, Fla. – A former Florida trial lawyer who unsuccessfully prosecuted Casey Anthony on a charge of murdering her daughter is now running for a key state attorney seat.
The opponent whom Jeff Ashton is trying to unseat in next Tuesday's primary in Orange and Osceola counties is none other than his ex-boss, long-term incumbent Lawson Lamar.
Ashton was part of the prosecution team Lamar appointed to handle the Anthony case last year. The then-25-year-old mother was acquitted last July of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in a case that drew national attention.
Since there are no Republican challengers, the Democratic primary will be open to all registered voters. The race, which has been contentious throughout several debates and forums, is expected to be tight.
Ashton, 54, has described his team's loss in the Anthony trial as Lamar's failure, one in a string of prosecutorial flops that have contributed to the office's 50 percent conviction rate.
"You judge a management system by how successful it is," said Ashton, who worked as a prosecutor for 30 years before retiring last summer shortly after Anthony's acquittal. "Citizens expect their prosecutors to choose their cases well and then do their best to win them. I don't think voters accept this idea that, `Hey, winning doesn't really matter."'
Lamar, 70, was first elected in 1988. He says he is proud of his record and that the office has been about more than just winning trial victories under his direction. He cited work with the academic community to prevent juvenile crime, which he said has led to a drastic drop in violent gun offenses.
"We couldn't lower juvenile violent crime with guns if this management style didn't work," he said.
He claims Ashton lacks managerial experience and criticized him for profiting from the Anthony case by writing a book and making TV appearances.
"It worries me that he's running for state attorney so that he can catch the next flashy case and write the next book, and sell the next movie," Lamar said. "I don't crave publicity. There's not a narcissistic bone in my body. I want my team to perform."
Ashton is unapologetic about being in the public eye following the nationally televised trial.
"The high-profile cases that are watched by the public are a good thing in a way because it gets people interested in what we do," he said. "In this circuit it's probably been 40 years since there was a race for this office that anybody paid attention to."
As the race entered the month of August, Lamar had raised more than $165,000, compared to a little more than $158,000 for Ashton.