New attack ad claims Jeff Ashton fired opponent's wife 'after she got sick with cancer'

Howard Friedman campaign mailer includes photo of wife in hospital bed

By Mike Holfeld - Investigative Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - A new political attack mailer blasting Orange County circuit judge candidate Jeff Ashton for dismissing the wife of his opponent, Howard Friedman, is showing up in voter's mailboxes just a few weeks before the Aug. 28 primary.

The ad attacking Ashton, a candidate in the county's District 15 judicial race, accuses him of firing Friedman's wife “after she got sick with cancer.”

The political mailer obtained by News 6 shows Friedman, a former court magistrate, next to his wife, Annette Schultz, an ousted assistant state attorney, in a hospital bed.

It reads, in part, “I’ve been a lawyer for over 30 years and I have never seen an elected official act so coldheartedly (sic).”

The mailer also refers to Ashton’s controversial internet searches on infidelity websites AshleyMadison and FriendFinder.

“Now he wants to be judge?” the ad asks.

Ashton, a top criminal prosecutor known for his work in the Casey Anthony trial, said the message seems "vindictive" at best and may, in his view, cross the line in terms of judicial campaign protocol.

“The courts have ruled that for someone to get the job through something that is misleading makes the system look bad,” Ashton said. “It’s a serious problem, and I really wish this hadn’t happened and that it was about qualifications, not this.”

[RELATED: ClickOrlando.com's 2018 voter information guide]

Ashton would only say that Friedman’s wife was dismissed for her performance, not her health, and that he is never critical of a former employee.

“The truth is, the photograph on the mailer was taken 2 1/2 years after she left her office at the state attorney's office," Ashton said. "It doesn’t reflect that, why she was fired is a matter of record.”

Friedman, who has agreed to an interview with News 6's Mike Holfeld next week, issued the following statement:

“My mailer speaks for itself. Voters know how Jeff has treated his employees, his family and his colleagues. I thought it was important they knew how he treated my wife -- a career prosecutor who was battling cancer. Judges have people’s lives in their hands and I want voters to have all the info they need to make an informed choice."

The mailer does state that the state attorney's office was sued and that taxpayers paid for the settlement, which was in excess of $42,000, according to court records.

The settlement, obtained by News 6, states, in part that “the employer denies any wrong doing or unlawful acts on the part of the agency’s elected officials.”

It goes on to say the employee’s claims “are not valid ones.”

Ashton has dominated straw polls and said he is hopeful voters will place him at the helm of the District 15 courtroom.

Ashton said he decided to run for the judicial position last fall and really misses being in public service.

“There was a time in my life when I seriously considered running for judge," Ashton said. “This was a great time to do it, from a practical matter. (If elected,) my assignments will be in the civil realm for a while, simply because (since) I only left the office two years ago, there would be an appearance of conflict.”

Ashton said the most important aspect of his role will be to follow a philosophy he followed throughout his career.

“Our system only works if everyone in it knows exactly what their role is and does it to the best of their ability,” he said.

Ashton sat down for an extensive interview with News 6. The entire interview will air Monday on News 6 at 4 p.m. and ClickOrlando.com.

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