Outgoing public defender spends over $200K on staff raises

Matt Shirk ousted in 4th Judicial Circuit primary by Charlie Cofer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – North Florida’s outgoing public defender has padded his employees' salaries by more than $200,000 in his final months in office, the I-TEAM has learned.

Public Defender Matt Shirk was voted out of office in the primary election, as voters chose former Judge Charlie Cofer, who is the presumed winner against a write-in candidate in the November general election.

The I-TEAM obtained records about 11 raises Shirk gave his staff members in the days after the Aug. 30 primary and a new software program Shirk ordered that will cost taxpayers more than $110,000 next year.

DOCUMENT: Raises for Shirk staffers by position

Shirk also fired several staff members after the primary.

Many of the raises Shirk gave are for a couple thousand dollars, but a few of them are significant.

The list shows one administrative assistant’s salary went from $39,000 to $73,000, making him the highest paid person in that position in Florida.

MORE: Search salaries of state of Florida employees

Also, former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Lt. Rob Schoonover was promoted to chief investigator and his salary was raised from $42,000 a year to nearly $78,000.

Another investigator got a $20,000 raise.

An IT worker’s salary more than doubled from $30,000 to nearly $64,000 a year.

But another IT worker, Joe Frasier, said he was fired, and the database system he implemented is being replaced by a new computer system that cost about $32,000 to start and will cost more than $85,000 a year to run.

Some former staffers said Shirk is intentionally trying to inflate the office’s budget, which Cofer will have to inherit until the new budget cycle begins next July.

Cofer, who will likely take the reins as the chief public defender of the 4th Judicial Circuit on Jan. 1, said some of the raises appear routine, but some of them seem hard to justify. He said he is concerned that the more significant raises might have been politically motivated.

“When you look at some of the people that have the largest races, yes, I would think it would probably be Mr. Shirk's way of thanking them for their assistance during the campaign,” Cofer said.

Cofer said salaries make up the majority of the public defender’s $15 million annual budget.

“It is very concerning for me,” Cofer said. “I have to make it through the end of this fiscal year. I will inherit whatever money is left in the budget. So if money is spent inappropriately, it certainly may hurt my ability to satisfy the constitutional mission of the office.”

Sources told the I-TEAM that the raises were given to employees who would likely not be part of the next public defender’s staff.

Cofer has not announced any staff changes, but admitted that there will be some made, if he wins the general election.

News4Jax contacted Shirk for comment, but he said he does not comment on personnel matters.

About the Authors: