9 Investigates backlog in criminal cases



ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates delayed justice for central Florida crime victims after Eyewitness News uncovered old files in the Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office that prove some criminal cases have been sitting on the shelf for years unresolved.

Channel 9's Kenneth Craig asked what caused the backlog and what's being done to fix it.

The task of sifting through that backlog, Craig found, is so massive it will take prosecutors months to go through.

That's because they're sifting through nearly 9,000 unreviewed cases. New State Attorney Jeff Ashton said the cases were collecting dust and left behind by his old boss, predecessor and 2012 campaign opponent, Lawson Lamar.

"I would be surprised if there is anywhere in the state where you could find this large a backlog," Ashton told Craig.

But Lamar's former chief assistant, Bill Vose, insists Ashton has miscalculated the outstanding caseload.

"I don't know where he's getting his numbers," Vose said.

The backlog represents cases police departments forwarded to prosecutors for review when they lacked enough evidence to make immediate arrests. The list of 8,800-plus cases includes robbery, domestic violence, fraud and even attempted murder.

To put that number in perspective, Craig explained, it would be as if prosecutors took in 24 cases every single day for an entire year and did not look at a single one.

"You cannot let the non-arrest cases languish forever, because there are peoples' lives affected by the results," Ashton said.

Eyewitness News first discovered the backlog when it uncovered hotel office manager Melissa Brown's arrest report in March. That came more than two years after she allegedly swiped more than $50,000 from the Park Plaza Hotel, a Winter Park establishment where she worked.

Police handed the case over to prosecutors in 2010, and even though the victim called prosecutors repeatedly, Brown's file sat around for more than two years before charges were filed.

"A case like that should not sit on an attorney's desk for years at a time," Ashton said.

"How on earth could this happen? How do you get a backlog of that many cases?" Craig asked.

"I really don't know," Ashton responded.

Lamar, the longtime state attorney for the ninth circuit, would not answer that question on camera.

But Vose, Lamar's chief assistant for many years, said the real backlog was just shy of 700 cases. He maintains it was not the nearly 9,000 cases revealed in reports obtained by 9 Investigates.

"I can tell you and look you straight in the face and tell you that is absolutely not what happened in that office," Vose said.

But Ashton stands by his count, and he said his office already has plowed through more than 50 percent of the backlog, and has filed charges on about 30 percent of the cases.

Most cases are misdemeanor drug charges, and many are now being thrown out due to lack of manpower to prosecute them.

Prosecutors are moving forward with Brown's case.

She didn't respond to requests for a comment.