Houston County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jason Ashford, who is also a candidate for State Court judge, was fired Monday.
Ashford, who contacted The Telegraph, said he was fired for not being forthcoming about a college relationship and a child, now 18, he may have fathered.
Ashford said when he was asked Thursday by Houston County District Attorney Rabb Wilkerson if he was a “deadbeat dad,” he simply told him he was not.
Wilkerson, who initially did not want to go into the facts of the termination because he said it was a personnel issue, said in response to Ashford’s comments to The Telegraph that Ashford denied the child’s existence Thursday. He said the conversation did not extend to child support issues.
Wilkerson said he holds his prosecutors to a high standard and that he terminated Ashford because he was not honest when Wilkerson asked about the child Thursday.
“I expect all attorney assistants, especially my chief assistant, to be upfront and honest with me,” Wilkerson said.
Ashford said when Wilkerson asked Monday for the whole story, which Ashford noted he has never withheld from his wife, family and close personal friends, he told Wilkerson everything.
“He (Wilkerson) feels I should have told him immediately the whole story,” Ashford said.
Ashford said that although no paternity test was ever done, he made monthly payments of $500 to the child’s mother for several years and a final lump-sum payment of $18,000 which he and the mother agreed would end his financial obligation a few years ago.
However, when he started to campaign for the judge’s race and set up a campaign website, Ashford said he received an e-mail from the mother requesting more money.
“I don’t pay hush money for any reason,” Ashford said.
But Ashford said he desired to do the right thing and contacted a Florida attorney to determine whether any child support was owed.
The mother did not follow through with any of the paperwork requested by Ashford’s attorney that included financial information needed to determine whether child support was owed and the matter was dropped as a result, Ashford said.
Sandy Bush, the child’s mother, said, “I didn’t ask for hush money. I needed the money to take care of our child.”
Bush, a registered nurse, said in a phone interview Monday that she e-mailed Ashford when the child was 17 because she needed more money in light of the economy, her no longer receiving overtime and the child’s preparation for college. When she didn’t hear from Ashford, she e-mailed him a second time and had an attorney friend of hers send him a letter.
Bush said she was eventually contacted by Ashford’s Florida attorney, but felt that Ashford and his attorney waited her out until the child turned 18 when it would be more difficult to obtain child support. Bush said she was struggling with her father’s death and just didn’t want to deal with it anymore when Ashford’s attorney last contacted her in February.
In all, Bush said Ashford sent her $69,600 for support of the child through the years, which included $350 monthly payments from age 3 to 11 1/2 and then $500 per month from 11 1/2 to age 14 1/2, with the lump sum payment of $18,000 at age 14 1/2. Bush said she and Ashford never agreed that the financial obligation was settled with the lump sum payment.
Bush noted that Ashford last saw the child when he was 5. Ashford said he stopped visiting the child at Bush’s request.
“I just wanted him to acknowledge (the child),” Bush said of Ashford. “That’s all I wanted.”
Bush also said that Ashford should not be “judging” anyone when he failed to meet his own “moral obligation.”
Ashford said the issue coming to light in the midst of his campaign for judge through an anonymous commenter on a local television website and “rumors spread by persons unknown” is political.
“It is what is,” said Ashford, who noted that he’s served as a prosecutor for 10 years, and served nine years in the military. “Politics is a tough business.”
Wilkerson said he took no pleasure in firing Ashford and that politics was not an issue in his decision.
Wilkerson noted that one of his opponents in the November election for the district attorney’s office, George Hartwig, is still employed by him. Hartwig’s move to a different location to work with the Division of Family and Children Services was at Hartwig’s request, Wilkerson said. Wilkerson said he has no “dog in the hunt” in the State Court judge race.
Ashford said he now plans to campaign full time.
“I’m still in the race for State Court judge and I intend to win,” Ashford said.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.