Mad as Hell

State Attorney Angela Corey has been under a lot of pressure lately. In addition to overseeing last week’s plea deal in one of the most horrific crimes in recent memory — the Somer Thompson case — she’s been vilified for her unpopular decision to prosecute juvenile Cristian Fernandez as an adult. She’s also in campaign mode, having kicked off her re-election effort late last year.

But while Corey appears to be juggling the responsibilities of her office just fine, there are signs that the pressure may be taking a toll in other ways.

The day after Folio Weekly posted a January blog item suggesting Corey may have pressured employees to sign petitions for her re-election at the office Christmas party, she began trying to find out who’d leaked the info. According to public records requested by Folio Weekly, Corey’s information technology employee asked the city (which hosts State Attorney’s Office emails) to search all employee emails for those with the term “photos” in the subject line (Folio Weekly published a photo from the Christmas party). The office also asked for records of “anyone that sent an email to ‘@folioweekly.com’ ” as well as the email records of six employees apparently suspected of betrayal — “Angela Judah, William Caryle, Valorie Miller, Rebekah Holt and Stanley Moore”— and any emails sent to Jasen Hutchinson, a former employee of the State Attorney’s Office. Holt, through her attorney, insists she is and always has been a loyal employee to Angela Corey. Some employees theorize that the Folio Weekly piece even prompted Corey to cancel two recent Dress Down Days on Jan. 20 and Feb. 3. (The office raises money for the yearly Christmas party when employees contribute money for the privilege of dressing casually twice a month.)

Corey’s anger hasn’t all been behind the scenes. In a Jan. 24 phone call to FW editor Anne Schindler, she accused Folio Weekly of libeling her, and said she was rechristening Folio Weekly’s blog Flog “Trog” — a jab at its contributors. She called the Christmas party blog post “hideous” and even took a shot at the appearance of the reporter who wrote the original blog post. “I understand why she is what she is,” Corey raged. “I understand her need to spit venom. I do. I finally saw her for the first time.”

Folio Weekly reporters aren’t the only ones on the receiving end of Corey’s ire. Melissa Higgins, the New Hampshire woman who started an online petition to pressure Corey to try Fernandez as a juvenile (http://chn.ge/ z1FelV), says Corey telephoned her on Jan. 18, haranguing her for her online posts and emails. Higgins, who founded the website justice4juveniles.com in 2011 to oppose the adult prosecution of teenagers, says it was the second time that Corey has telephoned, and that Corey was furious.

“She was really angry. She said that I was ruining her career,” says Higgins, who recently started another petition seeking Corey’s removal from office. “She said it was none of my business, because I’m in New Hampshire.” Higgins added that Corey was so angry, it was “hard to get a word in edgewise.”

Higgins also may have inadvertently outed a particularly vicious commentator on The Florida Times-Union website as one of Corey’s sisters. In a public records request on Jan. 9, Higgins — concerned about the seemingly cozy relationship between Corey and Public Defender Matt Shirk (http://bit.ly/wLLHnV) — asked Corey and Shirk for all emails between the two since both took office in 2008. Corey’s office said the request might cost as much as $92,000, but Shirk said he would forward her the emails he had.

In mid-January, Shirk’s office provided Higgins with a group of emails that included communications with Corey. In a Jan. 6 email, Shirk accuses one of Corey’s sisters of being the person behind “Blacksheep,” a regular poster in the Times-Union’s comments section. “Blacksheep” is known for an aggressive, baiting online posture, a strong defense of Corey, and a merciless view of Cristian Fernandez. In response to a Jan. 6 story in which reporter Jim Schoettler described court bailiffs “towering” over the 5’1″ Fernandez, Blacksheep wrote, “Hey Jim, were the midget bailiffs unavailable for escort or are you just seeking sympathy for this psychopathic, sexual deviant murderer???” In another Fernandez-related post, Blacksheep opined, “Evil can’t be rehabilitated.”

The identity of Blacksheep has been a hot topic of discussion in the comments section of the Times- Union’s website. Some people note that Blacksheep knows a lot about the Fernandez proceedings, including details of the case that aren’t public, and have raised questions about how that information was obtained. In a discussion about a plea deal that Shirk rejected in December, Blacksheep asked, “Am I the only person in this community that read the plea deal offered by the SAO???” Melissa Higgins responded via her online handle melissa311, questioning how Blacksheep obtained the plea deal. “This IS NOT a public record,” Higgins wrote. “Who allowed you to read that plea deal? Was that person not in violation of the law when they did?” Blacksheep responded that information on the plea deal came from news stories.

In comments following the Jan. 6 story, Blacksheep turned on Shirk, accusing him of being incompetent and grandstanding.

“God bless the prosecutors and judges for pursuing justice in the wake of the ignorant bleeding-heart persecution. CF could have had three months of rehab by now, but he’s stuck with inexperienced representation. Shirk’s refusal of the original plea deal, filing of bogus motions, and grandstanding with million dollar lawyers [a team of private attorneys had joined the defense] has only exposed his incompetence and wasted taxpayer dollars. Wonder if CF’s mother voted for Bill White.” (White was Shirk’s opponent in the 2008 Public Defender’s election).

A little over an hour after the comment appeared, Shirk sent an email to Corey complaining about Blacksheep’s comments. “Angela, I know that Blacksheep is your sister,” he wrote. “She told me in 2008 when we were campaigning. This is the first time she has attacked me personally on a blog. I’m disappointed.”

Folio Weekly was unable to determine which of Corey’s three sisters Shirk may have been referencing, or make contact with any of them. Neither Shirk nor Corey responded to Folio Weekly’s request for comment about the matter. (Corey did leave two messages with Folio Weekly’s editor in the past week, but those calls, once returned, did not yield contact or comment.) And Corey’s response to Shirk’s allegation is unknown. The State Attorney’s Office’s public records custodian Lisa DiFranza said the office would assert a public records exemption for emails in any way related to Cristian Fernandez because active investigations are exempted from the Florida Sunshine Law.

Susan Cooper E

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