JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- State Attorney Angela Corey issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon, calling recent news stories about the Office of Public Defender "of sufficient concern to warrant a review," though she made clear that duty would not fall to her office.
Corey sent her letter to Gov. Rick Scott, asking that he appoint another State Attorney to "determine if there are any violations of Florida law." Gov. Scott previously issued a statement, calling recent allegations "troubling, and
if true ... inconsistent with the high standards of ethical
behavior Governor Scott expects from public officials."
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Moments before Corey's statement was emailed to local media, embattled Public Defender Matt Shirk issued a statement announcing that his office had retained the Rogers Towers law firm to examine public records issues at the PD's Office. The law firm will manage records requests being made to the PD's Office and also examine whether current records policies need to be changed.
Shirk's office has been at the center of several recent news stories that include allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior and non-compliance with public records laws. As our news partner The Florida Times-Union reported, two former PD's Office investigators resigned over the hiring and subsequent firing of two young women, both Whisky River bartenders. The investigators told the Times-Union that the firings were initiated by Shirk's wife, Michelle.
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Rogers Towers issued a statement, saying it would agree to work pro bono on the matter "in order that the integrity and credibility of the POD ... can be maintained."
The team of lawyers that will undertake the review includes civic activist and attorney Bill Scheu, who has been enlisted to bat cleanup on city issues ranging from the disastrous 2000 Presidential Election to pension reform. Other members include former city General Counsel Fred Franklin, former Charter Review Commission Chair Wyman Duggan, former Assistant State Attorney Josh Woolsey and labor employment lawyer Lori Patterson.
In an interview with First Coast News, Scheu said that the role of the law firm would be as an independent counsel, both to handle what he called a "deluge" of public records requests to that office, and to "take a look at procedures, as needed" regarding public records compliance. Previous Times-Union stories have questioned whether the office has been producing public records as required by state Sunshine Law, and has even reported that some records were improperly destroyed.
Scheu would not give a timeline for the group's work, but he emphasized that workplace issues and Corey's call for a special prosecutor are separate issues.
"That's not even part of this," said Scheu. "Even though that's the cause of all this, it's not part of the work we're involved in."
First Coast News