New Public Defender Fires 10 Lawyers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Ten attorneys and three administrators found themselves suddenly out of a job, sacked Friday by the newly elected Public Defender Matt Shirk.

At least one of the attorneys told Channel 4 he believes the mass firings were a form of payback.

The firings came on the eighth anniversary of one of the office's most notable legal triumphs. On Nov. 21, 2000, taxpayer-supported public defender lawyers proved that a Jacksonville teen, Brenton Butler, was not guilty of robbery and murder.

The acquittal became the subject of a documentary shown nationwide on HBO and won an Oscar.

On Friday, Channel 4's Jim Piggott talked with Pat McGuiness, the lead attorney who worked on the Butler case and who is now looking for work.

McGuiness said they expected some people to lose their jobs when the new boss came in, but he said they didn?t expect the cuts to go so deep.

"Well, Mr. Shirk had not yet reached pre-K when many of these attorneys were trying cases already. I think he is uneasy around those with skill and experience," said McGuiness.

Shirk let 10 prominent attorneys and three administrators in the office know that in January they will be out of work.

"There are very few people who would have acted as divisively as Mr. Shirk in term of ridding the office of skill and experience without interviewing a single attorney or looking at a single personnel file," McGuiness said.

The mass firing occurred eight years to the day of when Butler was found not guilty after McGuiness and other attorneys who were recently fired proved the sheriff's department bungled the case.

McGuiness said the firings are payback.

"Mr. Shirk was supported by the Fraternal Order of Police and made certain representations to them, as I understand, that there would not be questions raised about integrity of policemen," McGuiness said.

Shirk has not returned calls inquiring about the firings.

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