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Matt Shirk agrees to $6K fine & reprimand for ethical violations

Former public defender's agreement must still be approved by ethics commission

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More than two years after a state ethics panel rejected his first proposed settlement, former Public Defender Matt Shirk has agreed to a new deal to settle three alleged violations of state ethics laws.

The agreement, signed by Shirk and an advocate for the Florida Commission on Ethics, stipulates that Shirk admits to the following violations of the Florida Statutes:

  • Shirk broke state law by hiring three women outside of normal hiring practices, having workplace interactions that were of personal interest and "marginally related" to the function of the office, then forcing them from their jobs for the benefit of himself, his wife and their marriage.
  • Shirk broke state law by serving or consuming alcoholic beverages inside a city building, contrary to city rules.
  • Shirk broke state law by violating attorney-client privilege in revealing information about the Cristian Fernandez case during an interview with a documentary crew.

Under the proposal, Shirk agreed to a civil penalty of $2,500 each for allegations one and three, and a $1,000 fine for the second allegation. Shirk also consents to a public censure and reprimand.

DOCUMENT: Shirk's proposed settlement agreement

The Florida Commission on Ethics is scheduled to meet on Sept. 13 and could consider the settlement agreement at that time. A final agenda for the committee's meeting is expected to be released next week.

Shirk's ethics case was scheduled to be heard Friday by an administrative law judge during a hearing in Jacksonville. According to a joint pre-hearing stipulation filed with the state Division of Administrative Hearings, Shirk was not disputing the facts related to the first two allegations of ethics violations. Instead, he disputed the facts surrounding attorney-client privilege in the Fernandez case. Shirk had sought to call Fernandez as a witness at the hearing. A judge has since closed the case and turned jurisdiction back over to the ethics panel.

In April 2017, Shirk agreed to a similar settlement with the commission involving the same allegations. That agreement carried a reprimand and a $2,500 fine. The commission then rejected that settlement, calling on Shirk to pay the full $7,500 allowed by law. Commissioners also wanted Shirk to admit guilt on the ethics violations charges, rather than plead "no contest," which was the way the members read the wording of the 2017 proposed agreement.

The settlement agreement includes a footnote stating that Shirk denies that the facts of the case indicate a violation of the Florida Bar rules. The Florida Bar has been conducting its own investigation of Shirk, which is currently before a grievance committee. That committee determines if there is probable cause to file a formal complaint against a lawyer with the Florida Supreme Court.

This week, Gov. Ron DeSantis assigned Gainesville-area state attorney Bill Cervone to handle any investigation or prosecution of Shirk after a state Auditor General report, which was released last month. The audit report detailed questionable spending by Shirk before he left office, and also found Shirk owes the state $5,242 as part of his retirement package. Days after that audit was released, state attorney Melissa Nelson asked to be recused from any potential investigation, stating that in 2013, before becoming state attorney, she testified before a grand jury that was investigating Shirk.

This is not Cervone's first special assignment involving Shirk. He also led the grand jury investigation into Shirk, which concluded its work in late 2014. The grand jury's final presentment cited "inexcusable conduct" but did not charge Shirk with any crime. The grand jury also called on Shirk to resign, though he declined to do.