We went on a date with the state attorney candidates
Published: August 8, 2012
"That's how we play," he says. "I can't play any other way. It may sound stiff, but that's what we do."
But stiff isn't really Lamar's style, not when it comes to paying checks. "Let me get it all," he says, chivalrously. Nope. I'm a man of the law. Especially when there are handcuffs present.
Menu Choice: Pollo Piccatta ($9.95)
Biggest jab at opponent: "No one would know who my opponent is but for the fact that he sought publicity in the Casey Anthony case!"
Overall datability: ★★★
It isn't long after I spring into the middle-of-the-road Americana of Johnny's Diner on South Semoran Boulevard in Winter Park – in a strip mall, mind – that the imposing figure of (some say) celebrity prosecutor Jeff Ashton casts its television-ready shadow. Ashton, whose signature salt-and-pepper giggles and smirks come off more as nerves than ebullience, is an awkward sort, the kind of guy that has 3,000 other things he would rather be doing (quadratic equations, tree-climbing) than talking about himself, hunched over in a serviceable greasy spoon.
"It makes for an interesting race, especially now that it's an open primary," his eyes meet everyone else's but mine. "Because everybody pretty much wants the same thing: Everybody wants to be safe, everybody wants the system to be efficient. Sometimes there's debate on which tools that you use to be more effective."
Just as we're settling into our apolitical (yet somehow political) musings on the state attorney's race that doesn't really involve any enlightened political positions, an elderly diner approaches the table.
"I don't live in Orange County," the stranger offers, hand out for a shake. "Good luck on your election." ("Thank you for your good wishes," etc., follows.)
America came to know and hate television's adorable attorney cad when he failed to convict one Casey Anthony in last year's highly publicized circus of the scars. But, to be fair, everybody hates defense attorney Jose Baez way more, so Ashton's something of a sympathetic hero by default.
"It actually was less of a circus than we thought it would be," Ashton recalls. "We had visions of funnel-cake vendors. It never got that bad, so we were happy about that."
But, now that the mild-mannered married father of six has thrust himself back into the public eye via a bestselling book, Imperfect Justice, and a fairly caustic political campaign against a tenured monarch, the circus remains alive and well. And, clearly, that's part of what Ashton is banking on.
"What celebrity I have, I have because [Lamar] put me in that chair. I didn't lobby for it," he says. "I think when Lawson uses the word 'celebrity,' what he really means is name recognition, which in politics is everything." A waitress approaches, and Ashton's flack spends an inordinate amount of time justifying the meaning of a gyro salad before Ashton shoots from the hip and goes for the club sandwich. Me? Grilled cheese, of course.
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