Referee appointed to review Florida Bar complaint against Matt Shirk

Case stems from alleged ethics violations from Shirk’s tenure as Public Defender for the Fourth Circuit

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A court-appointed referee is reviewing the Florida Bar’s complaint against former Fourth Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk and could recommend potential sanctions for him, according to court records.

The Florida Bar filed a formal complaint against Shirk at the request of the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected a conditional guilty plea the former public defender entered earlier this year to resolve alleged ethics violations that occurred while he held public office.

Chief Judge Raul Zambrano of the Seventh Judicial Circuit was appointed to serve as referee and investigate the contents of the Bar’s complaint by hearing witnesses and reviewing evidence. If the referee recommends guilt, he will also recommend appropriate sanctions. Barring an extension, Zambrano has until Oct. 11 to submit his findings.

The court proceedings stem from Shirk’s time in office as public defender from 2009 to 2017.

Among other things, Shirk was accused of hiring three young women outside of normal hiring practices and later firing them to save his marriage. He was also accused of serving or consuming alcohol in a city building, and of revealing privileged client information to a film crew.

Those accusations led to a grand jury investigation whose findings were sent to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which resulted in public censure, reprimand and a $6,000 fine. The ethics commission found Shirk’s conduct violated ethics rules relating to professional behavior.

In February, Shirk agreed to enter a conditional guilty plea in which he admitted violating several rules of the Florida Bar, including the Rules of Professional Conduct, in exchange for a six-month suspension from practicing law. The state Supreme Court rejected the conditional plea and ordered the Bar to file a formal complaint against Shirk.

Court records show a case management conference is set for July 9.