Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics


Yep, that’s right.  It was party time earlier tonight.  And we all know how much Matt Shirk and Angela Corey enjoy a good party.  Wonder if Nelson Cuba was there to guard the door?  Oh, I guess he didn’t have to guard the door – this party was by invitation only.  Ohhhhh, rats!  And I missed it!

Oh, to be a fly on the wall. This evening, from 5-7 p.m. at the Ivy Ultra Bar in downtown Jacksonville, The Law Office of Duke Fagan is sponsoring a meet and greet for the lawyers on staff at both the State Attorney’s and the Public Defender’s office. And it’s OPEN BAR! WOOOOOO!

A press release reads:

“The new year has brought many changes. The Nation has a new President and the Fourth Judicial Circuit has a new State Attorney and a new Public Defender. Along with the executive changes in both offices there has been a consequent change in legal staff. There are new faces in old position and “old” faces in new positions. Thus, it is a good time to bring together both sides of the government funded criminal justice bar to meet the new faces and to renew relationships with the “old” faces.

The Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida has always been known for professionalism and collegiality among the members of its bar. In furtherance of that spirit, The Law Office of Duke Fagan is sponsoring a social hour for the Public Defenders and the State Attorneys of the Fourth Judicial Circuit. An open bar, hors d’oeuvres, and live music will be provided.

This event is by invitation only … All lawyers employed in the Office of the State Attorney and in the Office of the Public  Defender for the Fourth Judicial Circuit have been invited. ”

I love how they put “old” in quotes in the first paragraph, like people might get confused and think they were talking about the elderly. And, really, considering what good friends Angela Corey and Matt Shirk are, we’re relatively sure the two offices will get along just fine sans cocktail hour. [FLOG]

Filed under: Florida, Jacksonville, , , ,

Shirk lets 5 more PDs go

Five more Public Defenders were let go by Matt Shirk.  According to News4jax.com, Shirk let the attorneys go due to budget issues.  But according to PDO water cooler talk, the attorneys were let go due to pictures of donuts posted around the office – which Shirk supposedly thought represented the “hole left in the PDO” from the previous firings.

This is worse (or better, depending on your perspective) than a soap opera.

Filed under: Jacksonville, ,

The SA and PD Road Tour

Oh, what a warm, fuzzy feeling I got this morning (not!) when I read in the TU that Angela Corey and her family had traveled by bus to the other circuits to be sworn in at each one of them by her good buddy, and former State Attorney, Judge Lance Day.  The word “smarmy” immediately came to my mind.

“It says this is all one community” said Judge Day.  

I’m sorry to break the bad news to his Honor, but no….that’s not what it says.  It takes more than a swearing in ceremony to make a community.  What it really says is the “queen” has started her reign over some grim-faced SAO employees, who have now had her swearing in ceremony crammed down their throats.   

But even over the waves of nausea emerged a worse feeling when I read in that same news article that the new Public Defender, Matt Shirk, had accompanied the new State Attorney on her road tour.  Shirk was sworn in later in the afternoon and then went to his FOP-sponsored soiree. 

What’s wrong with that picture?

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , ,

A great start for Jaxpolitics thanks to our readers

With 2008 on its way out, everyone is doing a story on their top stories and/or their online numbers.  So we thought we would jump in as well.

Jaxpolitics  began on November 1st, as a site to capture our observations and musings on state and local politics.  In the short time since we began, site views have increased from just over 1,000 views for the month of November to over 4,000 views so far this December (those numbers do not include views by the authors of the site).  That’s quite a feat considering we’re not linked to the Times Union, nor are we linked to Sayfie Review  (although, in all honesty, we would like to be….lol).

Definitely, the top story on Jaxpolitics since the inception of our site has been the election of Matt Shirk as Public Defender – with all of our Shirk posts added together getting nearly 900 views in the month of December alone.  Our November 27th post on considering changing Florida’s system of electing the public defender and state attorney, received over 250 views and is the most viewed post for Jaxpolitics.    Our next highest views went to our Mayport Cruise Terminal and Waste Management no bid contract posts.

On behalf of Jaxpolitics, we want to thank you for visiting our site and for providing comments and insight.  It’s been a great ride so far, and we hope it continues.  All of us here at Jaxpolitics wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , ,

Are lawsuits forthcoming for Shirk and Corey?

We missed this National Law Journal article when it was originally published on December 5th, but thought it was worth re-posting here.  We note that according to the article some of the public defenders and state attorneys are seeking legal counsel to look into their termination by Matt Shirk and Angela Corey, respectively.   I am sure they can always talk to their union representatives at the State Employees Attorneys Guild (SEAG).  You know, after thinking on it, I guess it’s a good thing that Shirk’s new office manager person has all that human resources experience with the City of Jacksonville – it appears it may be needed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shirk wishes 5 more PDs a Merry Christmas by firing them

Matt Shirk axed five more attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office, bringing the total number of attorneys fired to 15.   The lucky five:  Tara Scudder, Stephen Mosca, Carr Smith, Lara Nezami and George Yazgi.  George Yazgi’s wife was fired in the first round just before Thanksgiving, leaving both of them unemployed now.  Again, claims are being made that the firings are for political, not fiscal, reasons.

Shirk’s comment on the firings?  None.  Despite repeated attempts by First Coast News to contact him, he has been unavailable for comment. Evidently he won’t be explaining himself until after he takes office.  I guess he’s too busy staring at his “pretty boy” self in his mirror to worry about anything else.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Objectivity of the new State Attorney and Public Defender in question

In today’s TU, Ron Littlepage makes the argument for a civilian review board for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.  The argument basically goes police may be biased in reviewing their own, and the backup to that review is the State Attorney.  The next sentence in Littlepage’s column really popped out at me:

Next month, the state attorney will be Angela Corey, who owes her political life to the police union, raising questions about her objectivity.

Question:  Since Matt Shirk also owes his political life to the same police union, doesn’t that raise the same questions about his objectivity?

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

FOP and “pretty boy Matt”

Proving once again that politics makes strange bedfellows –


And police officers would celebrate the election of a Public Defender why???

For those of you who haven’t picked up this week’s issue of Folio, you can read their piece on “pretty boy Matt” here.


*Hat tip to Tia Mitchell at the TU for posting the invite on her political blog.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , ,

Matt Shirk: The furor continues

More bad press for Matt Shirk on his controversial decision to fire 10 of the most seasoned public defenders in his new office.  Interestingly, Shirk (or “pretty boy Matt” as he was known in law school) evidently still isn’t returning reporters’ phone calls.  I’m not sure where Matt Shirk is, but here’s Tonyaa Weatherby’s recent column in the TU:

New public defender is looking pound foolish

Next month, Matthew Shirk will take charge of the office that defends indigent people who are accused of crimes.

But so far, it doesn’t look like he’s on their side.

Shirk, a 35-year-old trial lawyer whose candidacy was buoyed by the blessing of the local police union, recently defeated longtime Public Defender Bill White.

White’s defeat stunned Northeast Florida’s legal community, leaving some to scour for an explanation in their party affiliations. Shirk’s being a Republican, they said, hoisted him over White, a Democrat, in conservative strongholds such as Clay and Nassau counties.

There may be something to that.

Duval County’s chart-topping murder rate has led to heightened fears of crime — fears which, in turn, have fed a grossly misguided perception that public defenders like White exist solely to help criminals walk, not to represent poor people who, if left to the mercy of an inexperienced or incompetent lawyer, might wind up wasting years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

Those who voted for Shirk probably were comforted by his emphasis on fiscal responsibility rather than seeing to it that poor defendants, many of whom tend to be blamed for their own predicaments, receive adequate counsel.

But here’s the thing: Representing people who aren’t able to pay shouldn’t be a matter of politics or penny-pinching, but a matter of fairness and justice.

It doesn’t seem that Shirk has received that message.

He recently fired 10 of the area’s most experienced, most respected public defenders — his reasoning being, according to the Times-Union, that they cost too much.

We’re talking lawyers like Pat McGuiness and Ann Finnell. Lawyers who, back in 2000, saved 16-year-old Brenton Butler from going to prison by persuading a jury that when he confessed to killing a Georgia tourist earlier that year, he had done so under police coercion.

Their triumph in that case was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary titled Murder on a Sunday Morning. Legal heavy-hitters such as Stephen Bright, senior counsel for the nonprofit Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and one of the nation’s top capital defense lawyers, often use it to teach law students the importance of having competent public defenders.

You’d think that Shirk would want to keep stars like McGuiness and Finnell so that the system doesn’t run the risk of wrongly sending an innocent person to prison or worse, to Death Row — and ultimately cost taxpayers millions in compensation if that person is later freed.

But he didn’t. And that’s scary.

If Shirk winds up replacing too many seasoned public defenders with cheaper, less-experienced ones, it won’t lead to more efficiency, Bright said.

“An experienced public defender can do much more work in much less time because they are experienced,” said Bright, whose center, among other things, helps Death Row inmates who had bad lawyers receive new trials.

“The ones who aren’t as experienced will take up a lot more time because they have a learning curve … the mistake here is that while these new ones are learning, someone could be wrongfully convicted …

“What he’s [Shirk] doing is completely contrary to what public defender offices are supposed to do …”

Now none of this is to say that Shirk, who didn’t return my phone calls, will necessarily hire inadequate lawyers — although the fact that he has never defended a murder case would lead one to wonder where his qualifications rest in choosing lawyers to replace the stellar ones that he let go.

So now, we have a public defender who places greater weight on protecting people’s pocketbooks than doing what any person may someday need him to do for them, or for their children, or for someone else close to them: To provide solid legal representation to those who can’t afford it.

He’s proven it by purging the public defender’s office of top-notch lawyers that even he could learn something from; lawyers whose firings ought to embarrass and outrage this city.

Shirk may be on the side of economic efficiency. But right now, he has a ways to go to show that he’s on the side of poor defendants seeking justice.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , ,

The Innocence Project of Florida weighs in on Matt Shirk

This week, the Innocence Project of Florida weighed in on Matt Shirk and his firing of experienced legal counsel in the Public Defender’s Office.  Obviously, the Innocence Project would have a great interest in this matter, especially given the history of the successful defense of the innocence of Brenton Butler by two attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office – two attorneys that have now been fired by Matt Shirk.

You can read their post here.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Innocence Project of Florida, here’s a description of their mission from their website:

The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a member of the nationwide Innocence Network and the only viable resource in the state for those who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Through the use of conclusive DNA testing, IPF helps innocent prisoners obtain their freedom and rebuild their lives.

In the United States, DNA testing has so far helped exonerate and release 220 wrongfully convicted individuals. Nine of those were imprisoned in Florida. We know there are more.

Florida leads the nation in Death Row exonerations (26 since 1973), and with our rapidly growing prison population approaching almost 100,000, the third highest in the country, it is clear that our work is only beginning.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , ,

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