Matthew Shirk

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Matthew A. Shirk
Born (1973-07-09) July 9, 1973 (age 43)
Education B.S. Western Illinois University
Juris Doctor, Florida Coastal School of Law
Occupation Lawyer
Employer State of Florida
Title Public Defender, Fourth Judicial Circuit
Term 2009-2016
Predecessor Bill White
Successor Charlie Cofer
Political party Republican

Matthew Aaron Shirk (born July 9, 1973) is an American lawyer and served as the Public Defender for Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit. He was elected to the position, which covers Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties, in 2008 and lost re-election in 2016. He is currently under investigation by the Florida Bar for actions while in office.[1]

Early life[edit]

Shirk graduated from Western Illinois University with a bachelor of science degree in 1997, and subsequently moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where he earned a law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law in 1999.[2] As a law student he interned at the State Attorney's office under the supervision of prosecutor Angela Corey, who was elected State Attorney in 2008.[3] Shirk married Sarah Maria Purdy on March 13, 1999[4] and was admitted to the Florida Bar on April 12, 2000,[5] and then worked for five years as an Assistant Public Defender (APD) in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court. After divorcing his first wife, Shirk married Michelle Burney in 2004, and the couple have one son, Pierce.[6] He left the Public Defender's office and was associated with the Jacksonville law firm of Tassone & Eler for almost two years before opening a private practice with William Durden III in November 2006.[3][7]

Public Defender[edit]

In 2008 Shirk, a Republican, ran for Public Defender of Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit Court.[8] Some commentators criticized Shirk's lack of homicide experience as well as his pledge not to take a confrontational stance with law enforcement if he were elected, in contrast to the typically adversarial relationship between defense attorneys and law enforcement.[3][9][10] However, Shirk stressed that his role was to manage the office, not necessarily to be the lead attorney.[9] Shirk won the election 51% to 49% with a margin of 14,246 votes.[8] The win was considered an upset, partly because it was the first time a Republican had run for the office since the state of Florida established the position in 1963.[9]

After winning, Shirk declared he would streamline the office to increase services and reduce costs.[9] The Florida Times-Union was impressed with Shirk's performance in his first year. In a March 18, 2010 editorial, the paper praised his cost-cutting measures, such as introducing videoconferencing to improve staff efficiency and shifting from paper to electronic documents, as well as his community work.[11] According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, Shirks' implementation of videoconferencing saved about $120,000.[12]

Shirk fired ten lawyers in the office, including the defense attorneys in the Brenton Butler case. He hired as his deputy Refik Eler. Eler has defended eight people sentenced to death, more than any other lawyer in Florida. A judge overturned Raymond Morrison's death sentence declaring that Eler's defense was ineffective and that Eler did not properly investigate the case.[13]

Shirk ran for reelection in 2012 and defeated one opponent in the Republican primary; he was unopposed in the general election.[14]

In 2013 Tiffany Ice and Kaylee Chester were fired from the Public Defenders office after a visit from Shirk's wife.[15] This led to the resignation of another employee by the name of Kelly.[15] It later came to light that Shirk exchanged dozens of text message with one fired female employee.[16] Following that dissension in the Public Defenders office, the incident was investigated by a grand jury which asked him to resign immediately for his activities in that scandal and other reasons.[17] A few of the key conclusions from the grand jury report were that: 1) Shirk fired three women from his office solely to help repair his marriage, 2) Shirk violated local law by offering alcohol in his office, and that 3) Shirk violated attorney-client privilege when he shared details from a conversation he had with Cristian Fernandez with a documentary crew.[17] Among those other factors, was that Shirk redirected funds to pay for an unapproved shower in his office.[17] The grand jury essentially concluded that Shirk embarrassed his office.[17]

Despite the grand jury request that Shirk resign, and that if he did not, the governor should remove him, Governor Rick Scott -through a spokesman- left it up to the voters.[17]


Legal offices
Preceded by
Bill White
Public Defender,
4th Judicial Circuit

Succeeded by
Charlie Cofer


  1. ^ "Former public defender Matt Shirk is the subject of a new Florida Bar investigation". Retrieved 2017-03-18. 
  2. ^ Lawyer info & ratings-Matthew Aaron Shirk. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Stuart, Gwynedd (December 16, 2008). "Courting Disaster". Folio Weekly. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  4. ^ "Florida Marriage Collection". Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  5. ^ "Lawyer info-Matt Shirk" Florida Bar, Find a Lawyer
  6. ^ "Matt Shirk Public Defender, Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida". April 1, 2009. Rotary Club of West Jacksonville. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ a b 2008 General Election Results. Florida Department of State, Division of Elections. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d Schoettler, Jim (November 6, 2008). "Defender-elect vows more services". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved May 19, 2011.
  10. ^ Littlepage, Ron:[2] The Florida Times-Union, January 13, 2009, "Demands of city pension funds are booming". Retrieved July 9, 2009.
  11. ^ "Public defender Matt Shirk: So far, so good". The Florida Times-Union. March 18, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2011. 
  12. ^ Wilhelm Jr., Joe: "Public Defender eyes $120,000 annual savings" Jax Daily Record, June 28, 2010
  13. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ Sanders, Topher (September 21, 2013). "Matt Shirk spent $5,000 in campaign funds in auction to benefit private school". Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Topher Sanders (August 25, 2013). "Dissension roils Public Defender's Office". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved Mar 23, 2016. 
  16. ^ Topher Sanders (October 17, 2013). "Public Defender Matt Shirk exchanged dozens of text message with fired female employee". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved Mar 23, 2016. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Topher Sanders (December 30, 2014). "Grand jury excoriates Matt Shirk; Gov. Rick Scott says public defender's political future up to voters". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved Mar 23, 2016. 

External links[edit]