Last weekend, State Attorney Jeff Ashton found himself caught with his pants down when a local website, the East Orlando Post, revealed that he was among the many thousands of government workers caught using the infamous cheaters' website Ashley Madison. Hackers stole a database of 32 million users registered with the site and made it available to the world on Aug. 18.
Using the site, depending on your personal morality, could be considered egregious or unethical or distasteful, but it's not illegal. Nor is it even that shocking – we've seen presidents have sex with interns in the White House and senators who hired high-end call girls with the help of the D.C. Madam, after all. But based on how quickly national media jumped on the story (like jackals), you'd think that Ashton, who admitted during a press conference to logging onto the site using his personal laptop while over a 9th Judicial Circuit Court Wi-Fi connection, had committed a heinous crime.
Ashton held a weepy press conference on Aug. 23, asking the public to forgive his transgression, but that action may have actually jogged the public interest in his personal affairs rather than tamed it. The East Orlando Post is now trying to drum up interest in Ashton's alleged activity on another adult-hookup website, and Orlando's Fraternal Order of Police quickly jumped into the fray, calling for an independent investigation of Ashton, indicating that some people may have used Ashley Madison to seek out "high-end prostitution services."
"An elected official cavalier enough to indulge in these online peccadilloes while sitting in his courthouse complex office bears further inspection and review," reads the statement from Fraternal Order President Shawn Dunlap. But even Dunlap's statement points out that Ashton's activities were, indeed, "peccadilloes" – that is, petty, small-time offenses.
At least Ashton isn't the kind of guy who uses his office as a bully pulpit to push for questionable laws, unlike part-time Uber driver and state Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne. Workman, who was also caught using Ashley Madison, was behind a 2011 effort to forbid judges from considering marital infidelity when considering how much alimony a spouse deserves in a divorce settlement. A revised version of the bill would have put a cap on alimony payments and eliminated lifetime alimony rewards. Ritchman says the bill, which was called anti-woman by some, was actually "pro-family." Workman, who was also opposed to the legalization of gay marriage in Florida, told media outlets that he was "embarrassed" to be revealed, but that he never met anyone through the website and he regrets his decision to use it.
Here's hoping this Ashley Madison nonsense doesn't distract from truly important issues – like the allegations of excessive force against Orlando police officers that civil rights lawyer Natalie Jackson asked Ashton to investigate, for instance. Or the fact that Ashton's office has been asked to investigate allegations that a UCF fraternity member chanting about raping bitches may have sexually assaulted another student twice last year. Or the fact that whoever stole Ashley Madison's database in the first place was, in fact, engaged in a bona fide criminal activity. Or that other sites are extorting people whose data was found on Ashley Madison, asking for payments in exchange for not revealing their personal information and secrets. That's the real crime here.