Nine years after The Florida Times-Union revealed then-Public Defender Matt Shirk to have committed so many scandals they can’t be contained in a single sentence, an official body finally took action against the man.
To recap Shirk’s background:
He’d never defended a homicide case and had little experience when he ran for office in 2008 on an anti-Obama Republican message that included a promise to never question the integrity of police officers and a vow to force poor defendants to pay the office back. Both promises were things he wasn’t constitutionally capable of accomplishing.
Before taking office, he fired some of the best criminal defense attorneys in the state, misspelling names in his firing memo.
Once in office, he decided to personally handle the high-profile case of a 12-year-old charged as an adult with murder. He violated the child’s attorney-client privilege in order to court attention from documentarians. A judge had to issue a gag order against Shirk, and eventually, the case was handled to an all-star team that included now-State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
He used public funds to install a shower in his private office without approval, and then he allegedly sent texts inviting female employees to shower with him.
He hired women based purely on physical appearance — ordering his chief investigator to track down one woman and hire her after he was attracted to a photo he saw of her on social media, and hiring the other two from a nightclub — and then sent solicitous sexual messages to them. He then drank with them on the job, and then his wife fired them.
In one email, he told a woman, “I think if we had sex there would be very minimal awkwardness afterwards.”
He used employees to staff his personal nonprofit. He had the office pay his personal fuel costs and costs associated with damaging another car.
In his final days in office, public records went missing. He gave away nine office guns to a motorcycle club. He spent thousands of dollars on travel to law conferences, including one immigration-law conference. State public defenders don’t handle immigration cases, but Shirk, after leaving office, began practicing federal immigration law.
In the days after he lost reelection, Shirk gave substantial pay raises to 14 employees who were political allies in the office. In some cases, he more than doubled their salaries. Nine of those resigned on Shirk’s last day, and a 10th was fired the next day.
He gave $90,000 to a lobbying firm, hiring them without a competitive bid and with no staff input. The lobbying firm, in turn, made Shirk’s re-election campaign the only state campaign to which it donated.
Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis finally accepted Matt Shirk’s guilty plea to the state ethics commission, ordering Shirk to pay $6,000.
And last week, Shirk entered a conditional plea to the Florida Supreme Court. If it approves the deal, his license to practice law will be suspended for six months.
The Times-Union’s Dan Scanlan wrote more about the Supreme Court’s potential actions here.
If there’s one thing that I think has helped Shirk avoid more serious repercussions over the years, it’s been his willingness to admit some degree of guilt for his scandals. I wrote dozens of stories about Shirk over the years, including this profile during his failed re-election campaign in 2016, which touched on Shirk’s candor.