More than a year ago, the local media released information about an alleged scandal at the Office of the Public Defender in Duval County FL. Many people are unaware of the public defender’s office until they need an attorney. The public defender’s office is comprised of many Jacksonville criminal defense attorneys and support staff, including assistants and paralegals. These Duval County attorneys represent criminal defendants that cannot afford to hire a lawyer. These attorneys are lead by one lawyer. This is the Public Defender. In the Fourth Circuit, this lawyer is Matt Shirk. He was elected in November 2008 for Clay, Duval, and Nassau County. These counties are in the Fourth Circuit.
On August 25, 2013, the Florida Times Union released a lengthy article about Mr. Shirk. The article stated, in part:
“It was a turbulent month in Public Defender Matt Shirk’s office, beginning with the May hiring of a young woman Shirk sought out after seeing her photo on social media and ending with Shirk’s chief of staff asking a former investigator to help him avoid following the public records law. Between those bookends: A perceived unusual closeness between Shirk and the young woman, the quick hiring of the young woman’s friend and a visit to the office from Shirk’s wife, who a second investigator said threatened a third woman’s employment after the woman received an inappropriate text from Shirk’s phone. Not long after Shirk’s wife’s visit, the three women were terminated and two investigators resigned in anger over the women losing their jobs for reasons beyond their control. The details above come from a series of public records and interviews with former employees of the Public Defender’s Office. They reveal potential questions about hiring and firing practices, inappropriate office relationships and possible violation of public records laws.” (Jacksonville.com)
After the allegations set forth above surfaced, Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. After one year, the grand jury has returned its decision. Channel 4 News of Jacksonville reported that the special grand jury has called for Shirk to resign his position as Public Defender. The article quoted the report which stated:
“He has put his personal interest first and has acted as if his office was a playpen intended to amuse and in indulge his whims. In so doing, he has shown himself to be lacking the maturity to hold that office and possessed of an entitlement mentality that is simply unacceptable…. The grand jury calls upon Shirk to immediately resign from his position.” (news4jax.com)
It is important to point out that regardless of the allegations and grand jury results, the Office of the Public Defender continues to represent those that have been accused of crimes but that cannot afford Jacksonville criminal lawyers. Even with the accusations and possible changes in office, there are criminal defense attorneys working hard to defend the indigent.