Matt Shirk, You Are the Weakest Link.

From The Agitator and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina criminal-defense lawyer Bobby Frederick (if I ever get tossed in jail in South Carolina, I’m calling Bobby Frederick to bust me out): Jacksonville, Florida public “defender” Matt Shirk, elected to be tough on crime (“His campaign promises included a vow not to oppose funding cuts to the office he was running for, and a promise to squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendants, including a proposal for the postponed billing of acquitted defendants who might later be able to find some employment“), fires ten lawyers, including those who secured a acquittal for a youth charged with robbery and murder in a case that the Sheriff’s department had bungled.

The firings came eight years to the day after the acquittal. Maybe the timing is mere coincidence. Or maybe not. Here’s one of the fired lawyers:

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.

Since the public defender is actually a lawyer, and actually represents the accused (as VM might have written), he has a duty to effectively represent them (which often means raising questions about the integrity of policemen), as well as a duty to advance their interests (which probably doesn’t include “squeezing as much money as possible out of them”). In light of this, I hope we see bar grievances, disbarment, and disgrace in Mr. Shirk’s future.

The job of criminal-defense lawyer is antidemocratic. Here’s the takeaway: we don’t let the electorate choose criminal defense attorneys for our brothers, or our wives; we shouldn’t let them choose the lawyers for poor people.

Criminal defense lawyers should be as far removed from the pressures of public opinion as possible. Letting fear-besotted voters choose who represents people accused of crimes (as they do, according to Wikipedia, in Florida, Tennessee, Lincoln, Nebraska, and San Francisco [edit: Dennis Roberts informs me that San Francisco’s elected PD is excellent]), has, as Mr. Shirk demonstrates, tremendous potential as a really bad idea.

0 responses to “Matt Shirk, You Are the Weakest Link.”

  1. Thank you for bringing this out. I live in Jacksonville and I originally supported Shirk as a Republican but as I learned more I came out hard against him.

    He has also only tried one sex case in addition to not being Death Qualified.

    He fired 5 death qualified attorneys in the murder capital of Florida.

    He will be using the office investigators to investigate the indigence of his clients. Keep in mind that the investigators were the ones who uncovered the evidence exonerating Mr. Butler.

    Mr White (the current PD) is the head of the Florida Public Defenders Association and has dedicated 37 years of his life to the Public Defenders office, now he will retire having been negligently booted out of office by ignorant voters in Clay County (Duval County / Jacksonville went for White by 25 K votes).

    The beat goes on…

  2. Shirk needs to be investigated, this guy is not what he seems. When he won he said there would be no across the board terminations. How did someone who can’t pay their property taxes and has a lien right now get elected? You attorney’s know the law, see where Shirk did not follow it.
    It is a sad day for Jacksonville

  3. What a Crime!!! I was a prosecutor in Jacksonville eleven years ago and the PDs who were fired were excellent lawyers. Some prosecutors preferred to face retained counsel instead of them. They secured multiple acquittals in murder cases and were respected throughout the state. Pat McGinnis (one of the best PDs in the country – who was one of the lawyers who worked on the case you mentioned) was one of my instructors at the prosecutor/public defender school. He was committed to fighting for clients and was featured in an Academy Award Winning documentary called “Murder on a Sunday Morning.” The Public Defender’s Office in Jacksonvlle use to go toe to toe with the prosecution in serious cases. The electorate has done a great disservice to to poor. Shirk cannot ethically fully his campaign promises. In many cases, the integrity of the police MUST be attacked to effectively advocate for one’s client. His position cannot be reconciled with an attorney’s ethical obligation to his client. It may be his undoing…

  4. First, you are presupposing that what Mr. McGuinness said regarding the FOP is an accurate statement. It is, in fact, a false statement. Second, Mr. McGuinness and others had already made plans to leave the office before they were told that they would not be asked to join Shirk. Mr. McGuinness made it absolutely clear he was not going to work for Shirk. This is a choice that McGuinness and others made for themselves, not Mr. Shirk. On the other hand, Mr. Shirk has cut $2.5 million out of budget by not employing these 10 attorneys. Furthermore, there are MANY very talented lawyers that will continue to fight for their clients’ rights at that office. It is a bit arrogant of McGuinness and the few others to think things will fall apart in that office with their absence. As an employee in the office, I’m a bit offended by the media attention to McGuinness and others.

  5. Shirk Supporter, is it true that “His campaign promises included . . . and a promise to squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendants, including a proposal for the postponed billing of acquitted defendants who might later be able to find some employment“?

    That by itself is enough to set up a conflict of interest that should keep your future boss out of the indigent-defense business.

  6. I’m not going to comment on Shirk’s qualifications to be PD in Jax, but did want to respond to the attacks concerning Shirk’s promise to “squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendant.”

    In the 4th Judicial Circuit, where Shirk was elected, “Public Defender Fees” are imposed in every criminal case where the Defendant has been appointed the Public Defender. Depending on the case and county, these fees run between $40 and $100. The majority of Public Defender Offices in Florida make real efforts to collect these fees. The PDO in the 4th J.C. has refused to make any collection efforts since the fees began being imposed.

    It is not uncommon for a Defendant to make a $50,000- $75,000 bond, then show up to arraignment expecting to have a PD represent them. I personally have seen Defendants found to be solvent by a Judge, never hire a lawyer, then the Judge is forced to appoint the PD, simply so the case can be litigated.

    Under Florida law, there is a presumption that a person is solvent if a bond in excess of $10,000 is posted.

    In Florida, PDO’s have begun refusing to accept new cases, claiming that their excessive caseloads prevent effective representation. Shirk has simply said that he willing attempt to: 1. Ask Judges to question more Defendant’s solvency, and 2. Collect the already imposed fees from Defendants that have the ability to pay them. What’s wrong with this and how is this not in keeping with a PD’s duties???

  7. As the husband of a Jacksonville PD (at least she still is today) the election of Matt Shirk is a travesty. He won for one simple reason and that was the big “R” next to his name on the ballot. The purpose of the PD’s office is to give less fortunate people proper and good legal representation. Matt Shirk has basically said this is not going to happen as he has instructed his lawyers not to question the integrity of police officers! Also, he is in bed with Angela Corey (SA) who should, in a perfect world, be his #1 advesary. It’s a sad day when our legal system is based soley on politics. I feel for any innocent person stuck in the Jacksonville legal system because your days of getting fair treatment are coming to an end…..

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