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Pressure on Public Defender's Office mounts

Pressure on Public Defender's Office mounts

Pressure on Public Defender's Office mounts
Photo Credit: Action News
Matt Shirk

Pressure on Public Defender's Office mounts

The Public Defender's Office in Jacksonville is making changes after investigations by Action News and the Florida Times-Union.

We first told you Monday about public records hidden from Action News while we investigated possible inappropriate behavior by Public Defender Matt Shirk against young women on his staff.

Tuesday, the Florida Times-Union reported on records they requested, being deleted by members of Shirk's staff.

The T-U requested key card information for Shirk's wife, Michelle.  Those key cards show when a card holder enters the Public Defender's Office, or enters secure areas in the office.  The T-U had to have the city's IT department find the records after they had been deleted. 

Public records Action News obtained Tuesday show two different employees deleted key card information for Michelle Shirk and the couple's son on the morning of August 14.  We still do not know why employees deleted that information. 

Action News made multiple requests for comments Tuesday about the data deletion, and why the two non-employees had key cards.   We received a response via text saying that the Public Defender's Office is working to find someone else to handle their public records requests.  No local government agency has ever responded to Action News in that way until now.

Why is this so important?

Two sources tell Action News that Michelle Shirk entered the office on June 13, and fired office employee Tiffany Ice.  Michelle Shirk did not have authority to fire office employees. 

Key card swipes show Michelle Shirk at the office that day. 

So why was she there?

A resignation letter obtained by Action News questions Matt Shirk.  Former investigator Greg Strickland states Shirk made "some bad decisions regarding your personal life and marriage."  Strickland submitted that letter, and resigned on July 22.

That is the same day Action News first requested information on the resignation of former Director of Investigations Alton Kelly.

The Public Defender's Office originally denied any resignation letter from Kelly.  They finally delivered the resignation email, dated July 15. 

Back to key card information: Our records indicate Matt Shirk swiped his card very few times during a five-week span in June and July.

He did not swipe his card to enter the building on June 13, the same day his wife reportedly stopped at the office.

Records show Shirk only swiped his card to enter his office building 14 out of the next 54 workdays.

Matt Shirk is expected to announce an independent commission Wednesday to handle public records requests.   We hope he will answer our questions as well.

A statement from the governor Tuesday evening called the recent allegations troubling.  

"If true, would be inconsistent with the high standards of ethical behavior Governor (Rick) Scott expects from public officials," the statement read.

The chairman of the Duval Democratic Party is calling for the Governor's Office to investigate.

Duval Democratic Party Chair Neil Henrichsen released a statement that read as follows:

“The information coming out in the Florida Times-Union about Public Defender Matt Shirk’s office allegedly destroying public documents and engaging in improper employment practices is deeply concerning and a betrayal of the public trust,” said Duval County Democratic Party Chair Neil Henrichsen. “I call on Governor Scott to suspend Shirk from his public defender duties while an independent investigation by a state attorney outside of Fourth Judicial Circuit is conducted to look into if the law was broken. If the allegations prove to be true, Shirk should resign his position immediately.”

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