Florida Supreme Court rejects ex-public defender’s guilty plea to ethics violations

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Jacksonville public defender Matt Shirk’s conditional guilty plea filed last month with the Florida Supreme Court was rejected.

Shirk had agreed to plead guilty to violating several rules of the Florida Bar -- including the Rules of Professional Conduct, violation of the oath taken by a lawyer to support the constitutions of the US and Florida, providing competent representation to a client and others -- in exchange for a six-month suspension from practicing law.

The suspension would have taken effect 30 days from the date of the final order, but the Supreme Court said it considered the conditional plea for consent judgment and rejected it.

“The Florida Bar is hereby directed to prepare and file a formal complaint against Matt Shirk,” the Court wrote.

The issues stem from Shirk’s time as a public defender in Jacksonville from 2009-2017.

A grand jury investigation into his actions in office eventually got sent to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which led to public censure, reprimand and a $6,000 civil penalty.

The ethics commission found he violated statutes by hiring or directing the hiring of three young women in a way that went outside normal hiring practices, then fired them for the sake of himself, his wife and their marriage.

It also found he violated state statute by serving or consuming alcoholic beverages in a city building, and by revealing information relating to the representation of a former child client through an interview he gave to a documentary crew.

According to the conditional guilty plea, Shirk’s misconduct was “due, in part, to personal or emotional problems” and that he’s “deeply remorseful for his unprofessional behavior while serving as Public Defender.”