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Matt Shirk takes hits from state Ethics Commission

The Florida Commission on Ethics this month determined “probable cause” in three incidents related to 4th Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk, whose hiring of three women from a now-defunct bar called “Whiskey River,” and subsequent entertaining of the women in his office, were matters of media interest a couple of years back.

Two other incidents, meanwhile, didn’t meet the probable cause threshold.

The Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe he “misused his position to hire or direct the hiring of three women, contrary to procedures, policies, qualifications, or normal hiring practices, to engage in workplace or work-related interactions with them that were of personal interest to him and unrelated or marginally related to the function of his office, and to terminate them from their employment for the benefit of himself, his wife, and their marriage.”

Probable cause was also found regarding the charge that Shirk “misused his office by serving or consuming alcoholic beverages in a City building, contrary to a City Code provision.”

Probable cause also “was found to believe that he disclosed or used information not available to the general public for his benefit or the benefit of others when he revealed information relating to the representation of a client, obtained in his public capacity, in an interview he gave to a documentary crew interested in his client’s case.”

Ironically, allegations that he misused his position or public resources to build a shower in his office were dismissed with a finding of no probable cause.

Likewise, “no probable cause was found on an allegation that he misused his position to provide key card access to persons, including his wife and son, and that he had the cards and access information canceled, modified, or deleted from the system.”

Shirk offered a statement.

“Last week I traveled to Tallahassee to meet with the Florida Ethics Commission on matters that happened about three years ago.  I waived my right to have an attorney and simply told the ethics commission that I was sorry for the mistakes I have made and merely put myself at their mercy.  I apologized to them as I have apologized to the grand jury, the employees of the Public Defenders Office, the citizens of Nassau, Duval, and Clay Counties, and most importantly my wife and family.  I don’t claim to be a perfect man, and I thank God that through his grace and love I am a better man today than I was then.  But I pledge to everyone that I have learned from my mistakes. I ask again for your forgiveness and pledge to being a faithful public servant, the best Public Defender I can be, and a man of honor and integrity.”

Matt Shirk charges Angela Corey with ‘violation of public trust’

Last month, the end of a debate between 4th Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk and State Attorney Angela Corey got ugly.

Shirk brought up a stunning video: that of an inmate, DeAndre Ezell, getting knocked unconscious by an officer while being questioned in the Duval County jail.

Ezell was charged in November 2014 for non-violently resisting arrest and, after standing up for whatever reason when being asked questions by an officer at the Duval County jail intake facility, had his head smashed into a concrete wall by an interrogating officer.

Shirk wanted to know why Corey didn’t press charges against the officer.

“I want to know why your office continues to protect Correctional Officer David Stevens,” Shirk said, “refusing to prosecute this officer for blatant crimes.”

Corey said she wasn’t prepared to discuss the case at the debate, and then called a press conference later, to which this outlet was not invited.

However, her point came through in a Florida Times-Union article. Corey contended Shirk had not brought the case up previously.

“Matt Shirk has had 16 months, 72 weeks, 505 days, 12,000-plus hours and 43 million seconds if you want to talk about the amount of time Matt Shirk has had to bring what he considers to be such an important case to my attention,” Corey said. “Not once has he come to this building, made a phone call, sent an email, nor has he had any of his underlings request the same review.”

Shirk asserts he had, in fact, brought the case to Corey’s attention.

“As the Public Defender for Nassau, Duval and Clay counties it is my job to protect our clients’ constitutional rights and see that justice is served on a daily basis. This is why I continue to fight for DeAndre Ezell who was brutally assaulted by a Jacksonville corrections officer while handcuffed. The video that we have all seen speaks for itself and the fact that Angela Corey refuses to prosecute this obvious criminal act is reflective of Ms. Corey’s selective definition of justice,” Shirk asserted in a written statement.

Shirk goes on to undermine Corey’s veracity.

“For Ms. Corey to claim that her office had not seen this video until the other week is false. These documents prove that her office was provided with not one BUT TWO copies of this video within a month of the incident taking place.  Assistant Public Defender Josh Beard provided a copy of this video to the Assistant State Attorney assigned to this case, Jason Kelly. Upon seeing the video Assistant State Attorney Kelly informed his superiors and the case was reassigned to Richard Mantei and the State Attorney’s integrity unit,” Shirk continued.

“In addition to our office providing a copy of the video to the state attorney, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office provided a copy of the video pursuant to their office policy as outlined in these documents,” Shirk added, saying the JSO “did the right thing” and the officer is no longer part of the force.

Shirk asserts Angela Corey “holds the responsibility to prosecute this officer for this crime and it is she who not only refuses to do so, but went on television and lied to the citizens she serves. I call on Ms. Corey to apologize to her constituents for this violation of public trust and to finally bring charges against this corrections officer.”

The State Attorney’s office disagrees with Shirk’s take.

Spokeswoman Jackelyn Barnard asserts Shirk is attempting to deflect from his own issues and “misinform” the public with this latest ploy.

Barnard noted Mantei reviewed the video, and there was “no criminal act in the video by the officer then, and there is no criminal act in the video by the officer now.”

Corey, said Barnard, had not seen the video, as it was “not brought to us as an integrity case.”

“The office was aware,” said Barnard, but the video “was not brought to her [personal] attention.”

The video was handled “by the appropriate people,” Barnard added.

HD 60 candidate Rebecca Smith announces raising nearly $200K in May — most of it from herself

The campaign for Tampa businesswoman Rebecca Smith, running as a Republican for the House District 60 seat being vacated by Dana Young, announced on Wednesday that it will report $199,428 collected in the month of May in the coming days. That includes contributions from supporters totaling $33,900, along with a contribution by Smith of $165,528 to her own campaign.

The new report now brings her total cash raised since announcing her candidacy in March to over $312,000, with $287,000 cash on hand.

Smith is running against Tampa civil engineer Jackie Toledo in the GOP primary on Aug. 30. Toledo has yet to announce her fundraising totals for May.

Last month, Smith defeated Toledo 72-28 in a straw poll of that race at the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee.

“After receiving strong support and encouragement from many throughout our community to run for office more than 90 days ago, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many, both of their financial resources, and by the tremendous contribution of their time, to our campaign,” said Smith. “I am committed to working tirelessly every day on behalf of the residents of District 60. I am humbled by the trust and confidence of so many thus far and look forward to redoubling our campaign efforts in the days ahead as we press forward to the primary election.”

Smith heads AD Morgan Construction, a construction management firm located in Tampa. She most recently served as chair of the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, before resigning her position to run for state House.

The winner of the GOP primary will take on Democrat David Singer in November.

Tropical Storm Colin claims hundreds of sea turtle nests on Gulf Coast

Besides the toll taken on the humans of Florida, Tropical Storm Colin claimed what may be hundreds of sea turtle nests buried beneath the sands along the state’s Gulf Coast, wildlife advocates say.

“There was damage,” said Joe Widlansky, sea turtle biologist with Sea Turtle Trackers, a group in Pinellas County that monitors the marine reptiles and their nesting habits in the region.

The nesting season just started last month, he said, and about 14 nests have been identified and marked with wooden sticks and ribbon in Widlansky’s district along the South Pinellas shoreline. Half of those were lost, he said, and between 25 and 50 percent loss may hold true along the Gulf coast from Pasco to Charlotte County.

Nests around Clearwater, he said, appeared to have suffered losses of between 40 and 50 percent.

“Everybody on the west coast,” he said, “took a good hit.”

State wildlife officials also are beginning to assess the damage to the nests, saying high tides and storm surge flooded nests in the Gulf of Mexico from the Panhandle to Southwest Florida.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley toured St. George Island near Apalachicola Bay Wednesday, an area where sea turtle nests were said to have sustained the most damage.

“This is a top priority for the agency,” Wiley said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “We want Florida’s sea turtles to have another successful nesting season and we will continue to work with FWC’s marine turtle permit holders to help make that happen.”

At least 79 nests in Charlotte County were destroyed by the storm, representing one in every four, according to a story in Wednesday’s Naples Daily News. Turtle nest monitors there told the newspaper that another 58 nests were flooded, but it appears the nestlings there have survived the storm.

Though the numbers seem dire, sea turtles nest several times before the end of the summer, providing a natural way to propagate even if some nests are destroyed, said Widlansky.

“It’s unfortunate this happened,” he said. “It’s nature.”

But nature also protects the turtles, he said, by allowing them to lay eggs throughout the summer. So, if an early storm hits, like Tropical Storm Colin, there still is time for turtles to go on with their business of making baby turtles.

Nesting season officially begins May 1, but, the month of June typically is the busiest month for turtles laying eggs along the Gulf of Mexico beaches, he said.

The eggs more recently produced, he said, have a better chance of surviving flooded nests. In some cases, eggs can survive being submerged five or six hours. Older eggs, in which the embryos are more developed and use more oxygen, are more susceptible to drowning.

Job recruiting tech firm randrr to add 200 jobs, $9 million investment in Jacksonville

Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that an online job recruiting company will add 200 jobs and make $9 million in investments in Jacksonville.

“We are excited to welcome randrr to Jacksonville and celebrate the company’s creation of 200 new jobs,” Scott said. “randrr chose to establish its new offices in Florida over several other locations across the country, including Silicon Valley and New York, because of our talented workforce and focus on STEM education.”

The tech company already employs 15 Floridians and plans to add at least 50 of the 200 new hires by the end of 2016. Currently, the company is asking those interested in working for the company to send CEO Terry Terhark a message through their website or via text message.

“Our team at randrr is working very hard to create a platform that will change the way people and companies connect and we’re thrilled to be recognized today,” Terhark said. “I want to thank Gov. Rick Scott and Jacksonville leaders for their commitment to creating a world-class technology environment where companies like randrr can find the talent we need.”

Terhark, a former executive at payroll company ADP, said he founded randrr after his daughter had trouble finding a job after college. The company is developing a website and mobile app focusing on job seekers, rather than employers.

The deal with randrr was helped along by incentives money from state and local governments, though exact details on what the company will receive were not released.

Anitere Flores leads Senate pack in latest fundraising

Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores announced Wednesday she raised more than $250,000 last month between her campaign and political committee.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed by the continued support our campaign has received, not only door-to-door in the community, but also by financial support within the region and our district,” Flores said. “Every dollar raised equates to direct voter contact and increasing our ability to get out our message and meeting our goals for our campaign. We are fighting for the future of our community, and I am grateful for the amazing support we have received.”

Flores’ campaign raised the bulk of the money, with $153,000 in contributions last month compared to $100,000 for her committee, “Floridians for Strong Leadership.”

The committee now sits with $257,850 on hand after $23,039 in expenditures last month. The second-term senator has not yet released the full report for her campaign account, so it is unknown how much she has on hand, though as of April 30 she had about $305,000 in the bank.

Among Flores’ political committee donors last month were the Associated Industries of Florida, which chipped in $25,000, as well Wal-Mart and U.S. Sugar, both of which gave $10,000. The bulk of committee expenses went to advertising, including a $13,700 payment to Clear Channel Outdoor.

Flores is running in the newly redrawn Senate District 39, which isn’t as friendly to GOP candidates as her current district. According to the district plan, Republican voters make up 36.4 percent of the electorate, the same percent share as Democrats, though back in 2012 President Barack Obama carried the district by about five points and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson won by 10 points.

Currently, Flores is the only Republican running in SD 39, though she faces a tough fight against Democrat Andrew Korge in the general. Through April, the real estate businessman had more than $163,000 on hand in his campaign account and another $322,000 on hand from his political committee, “Friends of Andrew Korge.”

The third-generation Miamian hasn’t posted his full May report yet, though he announced earlier this week he raised another $102,000 last month.

Also running is no-party candidate Sheila George, who had less than $100 in her campaign account at the end of April. Full campaign finance reports for all candidates are due Friday.

HD 17 Republican Cyndi Stevenson raises $11K in May

House District 17 incumbent Cyndi Stevenson faces no electoral challenges in her solidly Republican St. Johns County district, so fundraising is not as high priority as it might be for other candidates.

Despite this, Stevenson continues to bring in respectable monthly tallies, and May was no exception.

New money totaling $11,491 brings Stevenson’s total raised up to $89,078 after May’s tally. She has just over $65,000 on hand for her re-election bid.

Stevenson’s money in May largely came from Ponte Vedra Beach and Jacksonville, with stalwarts of the donor class, such as Ed Burr and his Greenpointe Holdings and the Rummell Company all showing up in the donor column.

Stevenson spent $2,616 in May, the bulk of it with Front Line Strategies for routine campaign expenses.

Rob Bradley political committee, campaign account combine for $83K May

Northeast Florida State Sen. Rob Bradley had a strong month of fundraising in May, totaling $83,000 between his political committee and his campaign account.

Bradley’s Senate District 7 includes Clay, Alachua, and Bradford counties. He faces no opposition in the 2016 election.

The real action was on the political committee side, where “Working for Florida’s Families” raised $76,000, the bulk of it from three donors.

The “Florida Jobs PAC,” an adjunct of the Florida Chamber, donated $30,000 to Bradley’s PAC. Disney Worldwide Services ponied up $25,000. And Fidelity National Financial gave Bradley’s PAC $10,000.

Bradley’s PAC, in total, has raised $549,525 and has just over $334,000 cash on hand.

Bradley’s campaign account raised $7,500 in new money in May, $5,500 coming from the insurance industry to Bradley, chair of the Regulated Industries Committee.

In May, Bradley spent $15,712,69, the bulk of it on direct mail and advertising.

Bradley has raised a total of $476,256 for his campaign account, and has just over $348,000 cash on hand.

Charles Cofer: Matt Shirk is using public employees for campaign purposes

The 4th Circuit Public Defender race, encompassing Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties, is heating up, as challenger Charles Cofer charges incumbent Matt Shirk is using state-paid public employees of the Office of Public Defender for his campaign.

“It is clear that Mr. Shirk has found it difficult to raise funds to support his campaign,” Cofer said. “It is also clear that his solution to this problem is to have taxpayers finance his campaign indirectly through his Public Defender’s Office budget. This is clearly illegal and unethical.”

At issue: Shirk’s “public relations employee,” Sam Shiver. A GOP political consultant, Shiver operates the campaign consulting firm S.O.S. Consulting while drawing $73,000 a year from the public payroll.

The press release from the Cofer campaign asserts S.O.S. Consulting contributed $500 to Shirk’s re-election campaign. Shiver commonly attends political functions with Shirk during working hours, claims Cofer.

“The only role that a public relations employee can have at the Public Defender’s Office is to try and restore Mr. Shirk’s tarnished reputation within the community,” Cofer said. “The most appalling aspect of this sham is the dishonest manner in which Mr. Shirk has chosen to use public money to help pay obvious campaign expenses, like the salary of his political consultant.”

Shiver’s firm is not being paid out of the campaign account for campaign work, said Cofer, who added that Shiver is being overpaid “in order to receive kickbacks” to Shirk’s campaign account.

“This is an obvious illegal diversion of taxpayer funds.” Cofer said. “I call on Mr. Shirk to immediately discontinue this illegal and unethical practice.”

Shirk’s Campaign Manager Peret Pass refutes the claims.

“For someone who is so confident that our campaign is struggling, all Mr. Cofer seems to be able to do is talk about what he thinks we are doing. This is yet another attempt by our opposition to try to mislead the voters by spreading inaccurate information about our campaign,” Pass wrote.

“If you check our campaign expenditures, you will see Pass Consulting Group is the only consulting entity being paid. Mr. Shiver is in no way involved in our re-election effort. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. We are proud of our accomplishments in office and are confident in the voters and their ability to see through the nonsense from our opposition.”

Endorsement roundup: Matt Hudson, Beth Tuura, Bob Rommel pick up support

A trio of candidates picked up significant endorsements Wednesday morning: state Rep. Matt Hudson for Senate District 28, Beth Tuura in House District 47 and Bob Rommel for House District 106.

Endorsing Hudson is the Collier County Republican Executive Committee, which announced its support of the state representative after a meeting Tuesday night.

With 66 of the 83 votes cast, as reported by the Naples Daily News, the committee recommended Hudson as the best candidate to represent SD 28, which includes Collier, Hendry and part of Lee counties. State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo also received 51 votes.

“Thank you to the Collier County Republican Executive Committee for endorsing me as the best candidate to represent our Southwest Florida community,” Hudson said in a statement. “I am humbled to receive the support of our local grassroots organization, and I look forward to continuing to campaign on a platform that advocates for lowering taxes for Florida families and businesses, cutting government spending and implementing a balanced budget for the State of Florida.”

Hudson has served in the House since 2007, currently in HD 80, which includes portions of Collier and Hendry counties. He was named speaker pro tempore in 2014.

Hudson’s platform includes lowering taxes for families and businesses, cutting government spending and implementing a balanced budget for the State of Florida.,

In HD 47, former state Rep. Linda Stewart is endorsing Tuura to replace her in the central Florida seat that includes Downtown Orlando, Thornton Park, Baldwin Park and Belle Isle.

“Her social and business experiences will make her a great voice for women and working families in Central Florida,” Stewart, who served in HD 47 from 2012-14, said in a statement Wednesday. She is currently running for state Senate District 13.

Stewart has been a longtime activist in the district, both as a County Commissioner and in Tallahassee, fighting for equality, women’s rights and working families. Tuura has vowed to continue Stewart’s efforts on issues such as fair wages, expanding access to health care, and strengthening public education.

“I have had the pleasure of working alongside Representative Linda Stewart in the past and I am honored to have her endorsement,” Tuura said. “I will fight to win back District 47 and bring my business and leadership skills to Tallahassee to get Florida back on track.”

Tuura, who has lived in Florida since 2000, is a three-time National Sports Emmy Award-winning television professional. In 2014, she was inducted into the Murrow Alumni Hall of Achievement at her alma mater, Washington State University. Tuura is married and lives in Orlando.

Rommel picked up the endorsement of former State Rep. Tom Grady of Naples in the race for House District 106.

Elected in 2008, Grady represents House District 76, which due to redistricting is now District 106.

“Bob Rommel is a committed conservative, and I am proud to support him,” said Grady. “He understands that smaller government and more freedom aren’t just good principles, but the path to greater prosperity. I know we can count on him to fight for those values in Tallahassee.”

After serving a single term the House from 2008-10, Grady, an attorney, was selected to lead the Office of Financial Regulation in 2011 and as Interim President of Citizens Property Insurance in 2012. Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the state Board of Education earlier this year.

“I’m so pleased to have Tom Grady’s support,” said Rommel. “I look forward to working with him and other great public servants from our area to enact sound state policies that will continue to move our economy forward and create more jobs and opportunity.”

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