Commission rejects Shirk's proposed agreement on ethics violations

Commission says fine, reprimand ex-public defender agreed to are not enough

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Florida Commission on Ethics has rejected a proposed agreement with Matt Shirk that would have resulted in a reprimand and $2,500 fine for the former public defender.

Shirk reached the preliminary agreement for charges of ethics violations on April 6, but it had to be approved by the full ethics commission at a meeting Friday in Tallahassee, and all nine members voted to reject it. Shirk was expected to be at the meeting, but he was not there.

Along with the $2,500 fine, Shirk agreed to a public censure or reprimand, but the commission said neither the fine nor the reprimand was enough punishment for Shirk.

Jacksonville insurance agent Matt Carlucci serves as the chair of the commission.

"There is no way I can face the citizens of Florida after what that case revealed with a $2,500 fine," Carlucci said. "There is just no way."

The commission wants Shirk to pay the full $7,500 allowed by the law and wants Shirk to admit guilt on the ethics violation charges, rather than plea “no contest,” which was the way the members read the wording of the proposed agreement.

"I think that what is missing here is admission of facts," Carlucci said.

He said that essential "no contest" plea that Shirk wanted hasn't been accepted by the ethics commission since 1992. 

Shirk came under fire four years ago for hiring two waitresses from a local bar with no legal experience. He admitted in the preliminary agreement that he violated state law in hiring them.

In the four-page filing with the ethics commission earlier this month, Shirk also admitted he engaged in "inappropriate workplace interactions" and broke the law by "wrongfully terminating them."

Shirk's inappropriate emails and texts, including an E-card sent to one employee that read, "I think if we had sex, there would be very little awkwardness after," were the subject of a grand jury inquiry.

In the filing, Shirk also admitted he violated another state statute by serving and/or consuming alcoholic beverages in a city building, and he broke attorney client privilege by sharing confidential information with media in the Cristian Fernandez case.

At the time, Fernandez was Jacksonville's youngest murder suspect and was accuse of killing his younger brother. Shirk openly talked about the case with a documentary crew.

The Florida Bar is also investigating the ethics violation allegations and could take action on Shirk's law license, including a suspension or revocation. It's unclear how the commission's decision will affect the Bar's investigation, but an advocate who mediates on behalf of Ethics Commission with Shirk said she's been providing information to the Florida Bar and hinted that his career might be in jeopardy.

"I believe he's got some serious problems with the Florida Bar," she said.

Shirk will have to go back to the drawing board with the ethics commission. He could agree to a higher penalty and admit guilt or he could have a hearing before the Ethics Commission to fight to prove his innocence.

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