Former Public Defender Matt Shirk Has Been Disbarred

The Florida Supreme Court has made the decision to permanently disbar former Public Defender Matt Shirk from practicing law in the state.

In 2021, Shirk was suspended for six months following a court order. He had pleaded guilty to ethics violations during his time as the public defender in the 4th Judicial Circuit in Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties.

In August 2022, a court order suspended him for a year, and a recent order filed on Wednesday states that Shirk has been permanently disbarred for practicing law while under suspension. The court determined that he had performed court duties on behalf of four different immigration clients in 2023.

Shirk is required to pay $1,250 in court costs according to the order.

Shirk was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

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Shirk, who was first elected as public defender in 2009, won reelection in 2013 but faced defeat in his quest for a third term in 2016.

Shirk came under investigation following a damning report by the Florida auditor general, which exposed his misuse of staff and funds for personal gain. Additionally, there were allegations that he had illegally deleted records, a recurring accusation that had been leveled against him in the past.

The grand jury also suggested that Shirk be removed from office, but then-Governor Rick Scott decided against it, and Shirk refused to resign.

Shirk admitted to several ethics violations and was fined $6,000. The violations included the improper hiring of women in the public defender’s office, followed by their termination for his personal gain and to salvage his marriage, as stated in the referee’s report.

According to reports from the grand jury and ethics commission, The Tributary, a news partner of Jacksonville Today, stated that there were allegations of hiring a woman based on a photo of her working as a ring girl at a boxing match.

According to investigative reports, there were two other women involved in the situation. One of them worked as a waitress, while the other was the girlfriend of the local police union’s president at the time.

According to court documents, it was revealed that Shirk had disclosed or utilized non-public information for personal gain or to benefit others. This breach occurred when Shirk shared details about a previous child client with a television documentary team, thereby violating the attorney-client privilege in the well-known case involving Cristian Fernandez, a 12-year-old who was accused of murder.

According to the recent order, Shirk has been found in contempt for representing clients while he was suspended. The filing reveals that he submitted a notice to represent four immigration clients with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

When one of Shirk’s clients inquired about his representation at the hearing, Shirk informed the client about his suspension from practicing law. However, he assured the client that he would still take the necessary steps to contact the immigration court and ascertain the client’s requirements.

Shirk later filed motions with the court to reschedule hearings for three clients instead of informing them about his suspension from practicing law and taking the necessary steps to safeguard their interests in their immigration cases.

In August, Shirk took immediate action by submitting an urgent request on behalf of a client facing removal in the immigration court in Orlando.

The Florida Bar has requested the state Supreme Court to take action against Shirk by demanding an explanation as to why he should not face immediate disbarment and be held in contempt. In response to this request, Shirk stated in mid-November that he has fully adhered to the court’s suspension order.

According to Shirk, there is no requirement for Bar membership or special licensing to prepare applications and forms with USCIS. This means that anyone can handle this task on behalf of applicants. Shirk also mentioned that the respondent had difficulty finding another lawyer to file any documents on his behalf.

Shirk clarified that he did not engage in any legal activities or offer legal guidance during his suspension. His intention was solely to inform immigration court officials about his suspended status and his inability to represent the clients involved.

Just 12 days later, the Florida Supreme Court took the decisive step of disbarment.

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