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Scandal, Dismissals and Resignations in Public Defender's Office

10:46 PM, Aug 25, 2013   |    comments
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 PDF Document: 162886826 Shirk Statement

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Public Defender Matt Shirk's office has had a chaotic month according to Topher Sanders of our news partner, The Florida Times-Union. 

Sources say that Shirk hired 28-year-old Kayle Chester after seeing her photo on social media in May. At the time when Chester was hired, she was an employee of a local attorney's office and at Whisky River Nightclub and Restaurant.

A.L. Kelly who resigned on July 15 as Director of Investigations told Shirk he had previously met Chester when she was a ring girl for the Guns N' Hoses charity boxing event and knew she was studying to be a legal assistant.

According to the T-U, Shirk asked Kelly to see if Chester would be interested in applying for a position in Matt Shirk's office and after a few weeks Kelly told her Shirk wanted her to come in for an interview.

According to Kelly, he did not know why Shirk wanted Chester to work for him, but Chester's physical attractiveness was part of the conversation. When Chester was hired, Kelly said Shirk did not follow the office's common practices of having the hiring committee interview candidates; Instead, Shirk interviewed and immediately hired Chester.

Kelly said, he did suggest to Shirk that he go through the proper channels of the hiring committee. However, Kelly was told she was already hired.

Many became aware of the unusual closeness between Shirk and the young woman because soon after Chester's hiring, she and Shirk were often seen together around the office, according to Greg Strickland, a former investigator from Shirk's office.

In addition, the Times-Union reports that the quick hiring of Chester's friend, 23-year-old  Kristal Coggins and a visit to the office from Shirk's wife, Michelle, who a second investigator said threatened a third woman's employment after the woman received an inappropriate text from Shirk's phone demonstrated that something inappropriate was taking place in the office.

That third woman is 30 year-old Tiffany Ice, who Strickland said soon became part of the conversations between Shirk and Chester. Ice, whose cubicle was near Chester's, also began making trips to Shirk's office with Chester, Strickland said.

After Shirk's wife visited the office, the three women were fired and two investigators resigned out of anger for the women losing their jobs for reasons that were not in their control.

Upon Kelly's resignation, he said, he could no longer work for Shirk because of how his office handled the upheaval.

"My principles wouldn't let me stay there," Kelly said. "I could not deal with those folks [the Shirk administration] mistreating people and destroying their lives the way they did. And those three young ladies' lives, it will affect them and their self-esteem for the rest of their lives."

Greg Strickland, also resigned from the office on July 18, telling Shirk in an email four days after a working with Chester at a charity golf tournament in St. Augustine how he was upset about the way the women and Kelly were treated.

Public records and interviews with former employees detailed the above series of events in the Public Defender's Office. 

Shirk issued a statement saying, "Over the course of the summer months, the Office of the Public Defender has experienced several personnel changes. Those include resignations terminations, and staff reorganizations."

He also said, "To the extent there are questions about my private life, let me be clear; I do not intend to discuss my personal or family business with anyone - my family is simply off-limits." 

Matt Shirk is the 4th Circuit Public Defender serving, Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

The Florida Times-Union

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