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State Attorney calls for investigation of Public Defender's office while public records review begins
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State Attorney calls for investigation of Public Defender's office while public records review begins

State Attorney calls for investigation of Public Defender's office while public records review begins
Photo Credit: Action News
Matt Shirk

State Attorney calls for investigation of Public Defender's office while public records review begins

In our continuing coverage of serious allegations facing the Public Defender and his office, we’ve now learned State Attorney Angela Corey is backing a formal review by the state.

In a letter obtained by WOKV, Corey writes to Governor Rick Scott that while she has not fielded any direct complaints, those she is hearing from the media “is of sufficient concern to warrant a review.”

Corey is deferring the investigation to the state because she says there is an inherent conflict of interest, since the Public Defender’s Office is in the same judicial circuit, meaning many of the people her office prosecutes are represented by lawyers within the Public Defender’s Office. Corey says she does not want to undermine the ability of the office to represent its clients or put any employees in a difficult situation.

We’ve reached out to the Governor’s Office to get his reaction and have not yet heard back. An earlier statement issued to WOKV indicated that the allegations facing Public Defender Matt Shirk were in fact “concerning”.

These allegations include questionable hiring and firing practices, giving building access to family members who are not employees, and potentially improper conduct in the office with several female employees.

While Corey’s request for a formal review waits, a separate review is now underway in to how the Public Defender’s Office manages public records requests.  Our news partner Action News has been dealing with a long-running problem out of the Public Defender’s Office where records they request are being deleted or attempts are being made to substitute original copies for other documents that are less potentially damaging to the office.

The Office has now retained a legal team from Rogers Towers to look in to how records requests have been handled in the past few months.

“We will make a recommendation independently as to how to respond to those requests,” says attorney Bill Scheu, who is serving on the legal team.

Scheu tells me they will be very narrowly focused on reviewing and evaluating past records requests to see how those have been handled, managed and responded to. The notice of engagement obtained by WOKV clearly states the legal team will not represent Shirk in any way, nor be investigating his alleged wrongdoings.

Scheu says they will likely be releasing information as they work through all the information they will be given, which is a mountain in his understanding.  The team has been guaranteed full access barring any ethical and confidentiality restrictions that surface when working with legal documents.

He says it’s important to sort through these questions in an effort to regain the public trust in the office. The Public Defender’s Office says it has been difficult to deal with the large number of requests coming in. Scheu hopes the team can help alleviate some of that workload.

“Let the Public Defender’s Office get back to defending clients,” he says.

The letter from Rogers Towers says their “professional legal services” will be provided at no cost. It further says, however, that the Public Defender’s Office will be responsible for reimbursing “costs we will incur for such matters as telephone, copying and similar expenses, communications consulting expenses, if necessary (including specifically our communications consultants, The Dalton Agency), and other reasonably incurred out of pocket expenses.  WOKV has reached out to the Public Defender’s Office to detail where the money for reimbursing those expenses would come from and the anticipated budget.

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