The firestorm of controversy and criticism continues over Matt Shirk’s firing of 10 public defenders:
Major Change Comes To Duval Courtrooms
Crime Victims Concerned About Court Delays
December 2, 2008JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With a new public defender and state attorney both set take office, there are some major changes coming to the courthouse.
Last month, the incoming public defender Matt Shirk fired 10 experienced attorneys, and many crime victims said they are worried the changeover would further clog Jacksonville’s already backlogged court system and further delay justice.
“It’s just not fair. It’s not fair,” said Alisha, a Channel 4 employee who was assaulted last year inside her apartment.
The Local Station has been following her case for more than a year. Since the crime, Alisha has been going to the courthouse and watching as the man arrested and charged with the crime, Shawn Roberts, goes to court and prepares for trial.
Alisha, however, recently learned that because of changes in the public defender’s office the case could be delayed even longer as a new public defender will be assigned to the case.
“It’s really hard when you’re a victim to deal with those changes when you don’t really feel it’s fair to you. They’re just dragging you though the process, again,” Alisha said.
She is not alone in her feelings. There are major changes coming to the courthouse with both the public defender’s office and the state attorney’s office in the midst of regime changes.
In anticipation of the transitions, the chief judge has asked that no trials be scheduled the first week of January.
Staff told Channel 4 there would likely be big delays; however, those in charge had a different story.
“I don’t foresee any problem, really,” said Bernie de la Rionada, who is handling the transitions for State Attorney-elect Angela Corey.
Refik Eler, second in command at the public defender’s office, had a similar response.
“No, I don’t anticipate any delays — any significant delays at all. I mean, you pick up the file, you review it, you make sure what had to be done has been done. So, as long as those cases have been maintained, we hopefully can pick up those cases and run with them, which is our anticipation,” Eler said.
Those who oversee the cases, the judges, said there might be some hiccups on the way but major delays are not expected.
The real concern, according to Judge Michael Weatherby, is the lack of attorneys qualified to handle death penalty cases, and many of those attorney were just released by the public defender.
“It’s not a problem that has been created by the new public defender or the new state attorney. It’s just a problem that is just going to be magnified by those changes,” Weatherby said.