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Public Defender under fire: New emails revealed

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Updated: 9/26/2013 12:06 am
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Action News is digging through thousands of emails from Jacksonville's embattled Public Defender, Matt Shirk.

Shirk became the subject of a special prosecutor's probe after independent investigations by Action News and the Florida Times-Union revealed possible violations of public records laws.

Public Defender Matt Shirk's office released thousands of emails Wednesday. The latest release comes weeks after Action News' most recent request.

Action News starting making public records requests back in July, following accusations of inappropriate behavior by Shirk towards some of his young female staffers.

We dug through more than 3,500 emails to and from some of Shirks top staff, including Ron Mallet who is the now-outgoing Chief of Staff, and Public Information Officer Matt Bisbee.

We found for nearly six weeks Matt Shirk didn't use his government email. It started on July 15 when he sent a note to some of his staff saying, "I will no longer use government email," it read, and he gives a personal email address instead. "I have also returned my government cell phone. Effective immediately, please only use my personal cell number."

But the email does not explain the reason why.

On August 22, nearly six weeks later, Administrative Director Denise Ostertag sent a message to some staff: "The problem with Mr. Shirk's PD4 email address has now been fixed and the account has been reopened."

If Matt Shirk did, in fact, use his personal email for business during those six weeks, those emails were not turned over to Action News. Failure to disclose would also be a violation of public records laws. Matt Bisbee, a spokesperson for the Public Defender's Office, told Action News he hopes to explain the gap in emails by Thursday.

In April, Shirk his wife Michelle joined others in an inner-office March Madness betting pool. Despite emails indicating that the winnings would be distributed to participants, Bisbee tells Action News via text message that the proceeds were donated to charity, “Between $200 - $250 to “Vision for Excellence Youth Summer Camp” benefiting underprivileged, inner city teens. March Madness office pool contribution was a welcome donation!”

On June 3, Shirk shared an email with employees Alton Kelly, Bisbee and Kayle Chester that included a coupon to Whisky River, where Chester and another former staffer worked before being hired at the public defender’s office.

On June 14, the day after Michelle Shirk's confrontation with Tiffany Ice inside the public defender's office, we found an email to Ron Mallet from staff member Marleen Keehn saying Chester failed to sign paperwork. “You told me yesterday that she may not be going. Today's the deadline to cancel her room."

Kayle Chester was fired three days later on Monday, June 17.

Matt Shirk’s official email account was restored one month after Action News filed our initial public records request.

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