ORLANDO, Fla. - A former Florida trial lawyer who unsuccessfully prosecuted Casey Anthony on a charge of murdering her daughter has defeated his former boss to become the new state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties.
Jeff Ashton admitted that even he thought it would be a close race, but it was clear early on that he would be the next Orange-Osceola County state attorney.
Ashton was part of the prosecution team his former boss Lawson Lamar appointed to handle the Anthony case last year. The young mother was acquitted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, in a case that drew national attention. Even Casey's father, George Anthony, stopped by to congratulate Ashton on Tuesday.
"I'm thrilled that they're going to give me a chance to do all of the things I said I was going to do," said Ashton.
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 claimed Ashton lacks management 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."
Ashton worked in the Orange-Osceola County state attorney's office for 22 years before he quit after Anthony was acquitted.
When WFTV asked Ashton if some people should be worried about their job he said there are some who may not fit in with his management style.
Lamar, 70, was first elected in 1988. He was head of that office for more than 20 years. Ashton takes over in January.
Lamar was upbeat when he made his concession speech and said he was proud of the work he and his staff did during the last 22 years.
"I've had wonderful people to work with who cared about other people. They did the right thing. They were brave they were ethical. That's all anybody could ever ask for in this life. God bless you. Thank you," said Lamar.
Lamar did not congratulate Ashton and said that the free publicity over the Anthony case and being able to campaign full-time helped Ashton in this race.
He said he worries for his management team because of Ashton's remarks about replacing the managers.