Misconduct, mismanagement reported in Public Defender Matt Shirk's office

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Investigations are under way into alleged improper conduct and mismanagement by Public Defender Matt Shirk as new details emerge about what happened in the office over the past few months.

Shirk's absence from his office is one thing that is being investigated.  Records show Shirk didn't use his security badge to enter the office from June 12 through June 30 this year, then only used it four days in July.

There's no word on why Shirk wasn't in the office during those times -- perhaps vacation -- but the absences occurred as three women who Shirk hired legal assistants were fired.

Records show that Kayle Chester and Kristal Coggins, former employees at Whisky River Bar and Nightclub, were fired June 1 and 7, then a third woman, Tiffany Ice, was fired on June 25.

Jacksonville Times-Union on Sunday reported that two public defender investigators resigned over a series of incidents that included Shirk and at least one of the women he hired.  One of those investigators said Shirk's wife, Michelle Shirk, confronted one woman and told her she was fired.

Michelle Shirk is not an employee of the public defender's office, but did at one time have a security badge to access the office.

Since the story broke, media inquiries about the women's hiring and firing have flooded the public defender's office with public records requests.  On Wednesday, the law firm Rogers Towers was hired to investigate those requests. 

"The public defender's office has just been overwhelmed, and we're going to help them evaluate the request and respond to them accordingly," said Rogers Towers attorney Bill Scheu.  "We'll make a recommendation on office policy. Hopefully that will help the press and public, and be in compliance with public records laws."

State Attorney Angela Corey also sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking him for a review, but also asking to recuse her office from conducting the review. 

Corey wrote:  

"Normally, this office would immediately begin such a review to determine if there are any violations of Florida law, to be handled by us, or in conjunction with, any administrative body. However, because this situation involves the circuit's PDO, there is an inherent conflict."

Wednesday night, Jackie Schutz of from the governor's office released this statement:

"The allegations reported by the Florida Times Union are troubling, and if true, would be inconsistent with the high standards of ethical behavior Governor Scott expects from public officials. Additionally, we've received the state attorney's request. Our office is consulting with other state attorneys to determine who can take the assignment."

So scrutiny of Shirk's office  that began with local media investigations will now become an official inquiry.

Shirk has not returned calls to his office for comment on the controversy and, for the second straight evening, there was no answer the door of his home.

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