Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Jeff Ashton has been on the job for a full year now. He sat down with FOX 35 to talk about that year, and what lies ahead for his office, saying that overall it has been a very good year, and that the State Attorney's Office is making better decisions on trying cases than they have in the past, but Ashton did admit the office can do better.
Ashton pointed to the conviction rate coming out of that office, a major plank of his campaign. When he arrived it was 50 percent. In his first year that number has climbed to 62 percent. Ashton says better decisions have helped.
"For the most part, I really think they are trying the right cases, and there's a good balance and we're not wasting people's time. We're trying tough cases. We're winning a large percentage of them, and I'm happy with it."
Ashton was roundly criticized for his handling of the veterans court. He and others in the county set it up as a way to divert deserving veterans from prison for minor crimes to try and get them the help they need. Ashton was seen as largely unprepared and uncompromising during it's first meeting. Only one veteran that day got help from the court, but Jeff Ashton refuses to apologize.
"When you take something new and overwhelm it in the beginning, it is bound to fail. We want to help veterans who are having trouble reintegrating into society. We don't simply want to give someone a break, just because they once served in the military, if that makes any sense."
Ashton admitted he does miss being in the courtroom sometimes. He does plan to return there this year when Bessman Okafor goes to trial, accused of murdering Alex Zaldivar to keep him from testifying in a home invasion case. Okafor did get convicted in that case.
Ashton says he still has depositions to take in the investigation into Sunshine Law violations by Expressway Authority Board Members, so that investigation should take a while longer. He says he is most concerned in the upcoming year by the proliferation of guns on the streets of Orange County, and the willingness of criminals to use them against law enforcement.