Jeff Ashton’s first term as a State Attorney hasn’t been going so well. He has had a few scandals including equal hiring protests, dropped domestic violence cases, the Todashev shooting by the FBI, whether his firings were politically motivated or not, his signature being forged on two escapees’ documents, and closing the Government Accountability portion of his office. Now, you can add the veterans court not being important.
State Attorney Jeff Ashton is completely unenthusiastic about the Orange County, Florida’s brand new veterans court and it shows. Veterans courts are special courts, which give veterans a different avenue through the justice system for certain offenses. Veterans court has been a huge success in most places it has been instituted especially with helping veterans get mental health and substance abuse therapy. Reportedly, Jeff Ashton continually questioned the purpose of the court on its first day operating and insisted he didn’t want to go easy on anyone, just because they may be a veteran.
Judge Jerry Brewer explained that the veterans court isn’t “going easy” on them, it is helping them through existing government resources (VA system). Diversion programs for veterans are far more stringent than for regular criminal sentences in some cases. Brewer said that veterans courts are supposed to actually get the veterans help and get them out of the justice system and back to life. Ashton complained that many of the veterans in the docket for day one didn’t qualify and shouldn’t be there. (Normally, defense attorneys and prosecutors work together to create a “candidate” list for a diversion-type program. Jeff Ashton isn’t big on working with others though.) Ashton even admitted in court that his assistants who worked the cases didn’t brief him on most of the key details of the cases. Ashton’s cases had to be delayed or dismissed.
On the first day, the only case that made progress (a minor open alcohol container during driving case) wasn’t even Ashton’s. The veteran in the case was a perfect candidate. A veteran with a drinking problem, arrested for a misdemeanor crime, homeless, finally getting help. That’s the definition of this new court program Mr. Ashton.
Judge Brewer asked Ashton at one point to study a case and make a recommendation by next month. Ashton refused, not willing to consider alternative sentences. He raised his voice, not uncommon for him, and reminded the court that his opinion could end any deal.
Prosecutors aren’t supposed to be unmovable in opinion, they are supposed to provide justice. Justice for people who need help is not a mystery. Veterans deserve better than what voters have given them. Voters should have listened to Linda Drane Burdick and Lawson Lamar and paid close attention during the Casey Anthony case instead of getting blinded by “celebrity”.
I hope for the sake of both the counties Ashton oversees, that he gets his act together soon. The justice system is people’s lives and we shouldn’t create more victims.