Orlando Sentinel Foretells A Bad Few Months For Jeff Ashton

    The papers silence on recent OOCEA developments paint a very alarming picture for the state’s case against Scott Batterson, Chris Dorworth, and Rebekah Hammond.


    By Jacob Engels


    When local engineer Scott Batterson was indicted on three charges, including a bribery charge, the Orlando Sentinel was all over the coverage.


    Who would be next, they wondered? This is the personification of corruption, they opined. Is Rick Scott embarrassed, they asked the governor in the midst of a heated reelection battle against newly minted Democrat Charlie Crist?


    Columnist Scott Maxwell opined. Dan Tracy tweeted. The whole paper agreed… this situation stinks. Then, a funny thing happened. The state actually had to prove its case.


    There is an adage in criminal justice that a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asked them to, but the actual chance of successfully prosecuting the ham sandwich is considerably lower. Which makes the most recent omission of the Sentinel even more interesting.


    You see, Scott Batterson, the man accused of 3 felonies had one of those 3 felonies dismissed on Monday and the Sentinel didn’t make a peep about it. I can’t blame you if you don’t know about it if you only rely on the newspaper. You would know about it if you watched the TV news. They sure talked about it.


    WFTV did. You can see what they had to say here. Local News Channel 13 did.  You can see what they had to say here.  We learn from them that a spokesman, presumably from the State Attorney’s Office, didn’t know why the charge was dropped.  A small detail…


    WESH got in to the action, too.  


    You can’t read a word from the Orlando Sentinel, because they haven’t covered it. Dan Tracy hasn’t tweeted a word. Scott Maxwell took a chance to beat up on a local developer, but hasn’t said anything about this.


    I like all those people. Hell… I ADMIRE THEM. But I don’t understand why it is that they jump all over something and then sit quiet when something curious like this happens.


    NBC shares with us that the state had to drop a portion of Mark Callahan’s testimony. Callahan, you may recall, is the engineer who claims that Batterson tried to bribe him. Callahan also testified that Batterson was pissed off at him for hiring former Executive Director Max Crumit, and who worried that his firm could lose a multimillion dollar contract if Batterson and former board member Marco Pena voted them off.


    Apparently the judge didn’t like a portion of what Callahan had to say. We don’t know what portion, because three news stations and a newspaper… all of whom tripped over themselves to report an indictment, couldn’t give a damn about what a judge said DIDN’T apply so they didn’t bother to report it.


    Who cares about things like that? Nobody in the media… that’s who.


    I am slow to make predictions, and I’m not ready to go on the record, but I’m close to making this prediction official.  I may issue it firmly this week:


    Are you ready? Here it is… in short.  Don’t worry, I will expand:




    When he charged Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Commissioners Jennifer Thompson and that cabal with violating law, he achieved two purposes.  First, he embarrassed the Republican establishment.  Second, he targeted elected officials who wanted this stuff to go away. They tripped ALL OVER THEMSELVES trying to pay the fine to close the TextGate investigation. They paid the fine and he declared victory.


    Not this time.

    Rebekah Hammond, the girlfriend of Chris Dorworth, has apparently retained Mark O’Mara… the guy that got George Zimmerman off. Doesn’t seem to me this is the guy you hire if you want to do like Mayor Jacobs did… confess and move on. Looks like Rebekah wants to fight.


    Chris Dorworth, the guy who the Sentinel tells us just earned 2 million dollars in this article……he has Richard Hornsby… the guy who was always on Channel 2 assessing O’Mara’s work on Zimmerman. Another serious guy, and hardly indicative of somebody looking to pay the fine and move on.


    Batterson’s lawyer just got testimony suppressed and one of 3 charges kicked out. She seems pretty competent to me. These aren’t people who will pay the fine and plead to move on. These are people who are settling in for battle. These are people with resources.


    Elected officials want things to go away. People with millions of dollars want to fight.


    The state attorney will have to prosecute all the cases before the governor’s election, and man… if… when he loses, there will be MAJOR egg on him. The dude who blew the Casey Anthony trial will weigh down Democrat candidates, many of whom who have not so secretly expressed frustration with his alliance with Mayor Jacobs to me, will now look like the political hack who politically persecuted a bunch of Republicans in a losing battle.


    So here is my draft prediction:


    There will not be a single conviction in the OOCEA case other than the plea of Marco Pena. Not one.


    Hammond and Dorworth would be the first non-elected or appointed officials in Florida History to be convicted of a Sunshine Law violation without being the person elected or appointed to the board. Chances of that happening: EXTREMELY LOW to NONE. They are ready to fight, and they won’t lose.


    Batterson certainly seems to have more exposure, but yesterday’s blow is a MASSIVE one to the state. They refiled the charges. They were so uncomfortable with the strength of their indictment that they actually refiled it omitting a charge. I am not an attorney but man oh man, it seems unlikely to me that somebody would drop one of the charges and then prevail on one of the remaining two. Chances of Batterson getting convicted of the remaining charges: Low to Extremely Low.


    And then there are Batterson’s Sunshine Law charges. If Dorworth and Hammond are the conduits and they aren’t convicted, how do they convict Batterson? Chances of that happening: Low to Who Cares? When Dorworth and Hammond win, it is only a matter of time until the state’s case against Batterson evaporates.

    And that leaves the state with precisely zero. Wait until a judge gets to this. Then, if it gets that far, which I highly doubt it does, wait until a jury does.


    This really isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue.  


    Many Democrat leaning constituencies: young voters, African Americans and Hispanic voters, are highly suspicious and disapproving of a prosecutor going after people for things they clearly didn’t do. A Sunshine Law violation to one is a breaking and entering, or smoking weed, or loitering… to another. A prosecutor who willfully violates people’s constitutional rights isn’t a good thing, and Democrats know that.


    Show me a Republican voter who sees a liberal Democrat who ONLY goes after Republicans for Sunshine Law issues. Especially when a bunch of them get off, right before a Governor’s election.


    Show me the NPA voter who approves of the crazy taxpayer money Jeff Ashton spent pursuing these guys when NONE of them get convicted of anything.


    I can’t verify this, but a friend who is a criminal defense attorney Downtown Orlando tells us that all three of the defendants: Batterson, Dorworth and Hammond, have all chosen NOT to wave speedy trial… a fairly common procedure in criminal justice cases. This means the state has to prove misdemeanor charges: the Sunshine Law charges against Batterson and Dorworth and his girlfriend, in 90 days. They have to prove the felony charges against Batterson in 6 months.


    Batterson was indicted on April 24. Six months from that date is October 24, two weeks before the general election between Crist and Scott. Will the very public failure of Ashton to convict Batterson be the difference in a swing county in a swing state where the last governor’s election was decided by 68000 votes?


    Jeff Ashton came to office by beating another Democrat, Lawson Lamar, who turned many people off by wasting time on petty political prosecutions. You have to wonder whether there are some other young, promising criminal lawyer Democrats thinking hard about how Jeff Ashton’s latest folly further exposes him to being a one term embarrassment.


    One more thing worth reporting: I have had two separate people, friends of Marco Pena’s, report to me that he only pled because he feared further prosecution from Jeff Ashton. I will save the judgment of Pena’s apparent lack of courage for another day, but it isn’t a good ting when the one guy who will likely leave this thing having been charged and convicted of anything goes around saying he just did it because he wanted it to go away… not that he believes he ever committed a crime.


    Of course, you won’t know any of this if you rely on the Orlando Sentinel. They are too busy covering things like:


    1) How Master Chef Finalists lost.


    2) Miley Cyrus and her latest acquisitions.


    3) Pictures of the iHeartRadio pool party.


    Great to know these titans of journalism are focused on what’s important.



    Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at info@eastorlandopost.com