JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The first examples of internal communications between Public Defender Matt Shirk and at least one of three young women he hired, then fired, give a glimpse into what was going on in the office earlier this year.
Shirk has been under fire for the last 10 days since the Florida Times-Union reported on allegations that hiring of the women did not follow usual procedures, there was inappropriate contact between Shirk and these employees, there was a confrontation between Shirk's wife and one of the women, and two public defender investigators resigned over the way the whole situation was handled.
Late last week, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Gainesville State Attorney Bill Cervone as special prosecutor to investigate the allegations.
Shirk has not responded to Channel 4's repeated requests for an interview about theses issues and he avoided our cameras when he showed up for work on Thursday. After waiting an our for him to arrive, his staff said he was in a conference and unavailable.
In an interview with the Times-Union, he said did nothing wrong, but did send admit to sending inappropriate messages to an employee.
The former investigators said some of those messages were texts, which may or may not be public records. Shirk's office did receive some emails one of these female employees -- Tiffany Ice -- sent to Shirk. Many include Shirk's replies.
On Jan. 22, 2013, there was this exchange:
Ice: "Your so nice! Thank you for the coffee....."
Shirk: "Thank YOU!"
Ice: "text me when u go if you want company.."
Another email from Ice on Feb. 7, 2013:
Ice: "We should get a group together and do Vegas for our birthdays!!!!"
Shirk: "Ha! Would be so fun!"
Ice: "You, Nelson, who ever else wanted to go. I want to remember my 30th birthday as a blast. Well, maybe not remember everything..it is vegas....hahaha"
Shirk: "Ha! Fun! And you're not supposed to remember everything on your birthday!"
Ice: "Tru Dat!:) ESP. the DIRTY 30..lol"
READ: More emails from Tiffany Ice to Matt Shirk
It was after these emails and other exchanges between the employees and Shirk that his wife reportedly came into the office created a scene and demanded one of the women be fired.
University of North Florida President John Delaney once worked in the state attorney's office. As a former prosecutor, he is waiting on more facts before rendering an opinion. He would talk in general terms about employer-employee relationships.
"As long as there's not sexual harassment with an employee, friendly exchanges are fine," said Delaney. "If it has a different motive or purpose, then it's a problem. You can't fire an employee for no reason, but in the public defender's office, they are at-will (employees). I'm sure they will argue performance."
Duval Republican Chairman Rick Hartley said he wants the investigation to finish before commenting on Shirk's actions. Hartley told said he has talked to Shirk several times, and while Shirk told him he made some mistakes, he did nothing illegal.
Harley says Shirk told him what happened is not as bad as how it is being played out in the media.
The man the public defender's office building is named after -- former Mayor Jake Godbold -- said that public officials should be prepared for media scrutiny, but he wouldn't render an opinion on whether Shirk should resign or be removed from office.
"I think the ultimate decision is going to be made by the public," Godbold said. "It's a bad situation right there. Smart young man; nice looking young man, and I feel for his family."
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