CLEARWATER — Bruce Bartlett, the second in command under Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe since McCabe was elected 22 years ago, has retired.
The 59-year-old litigator, long considered McCabe’s heir apparent, prosecuted or took part in the prosecutions of some of Pinellas’ most notorious criminals, including Nick Lindsey, who killed a police officer, and Oba Chandler, the aluminum siding contractor who killed an Ohio woman and her two daughters before dumping their bodies into Tampa Bay.
McCabe described Bartlett’s role in his office as “extremely important,” “even invaluable.” Bartlett, he said, was his right-hand man. “He contributed an awful lot to the stability we enjoy,” McCabe said. “We have to move on without him at this point.”
Bartlett said he decided in 2008 to participate in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, where a state employee can park pension contributions in an interest-bearing account for a designated period, with the understanding the employee then retires.
At the time, the economy was performing poorly and there was talk of eliminating DROP or reducing its benefits, Bartlett said. Another uncertainty was how long McCabe would remain in office, he said.
McCabe said Wednesday he intends to seek re-election in 2016.
Bartlett was in the DROP program from January 2009 through December 2013 and retired after 30 years of public service, said a spokesman with the Florida Department of Management Services.
The lump sum he received from DROP was $449,085. Bartlett also has a gross monthly pension of $6,884, or $82,609 a year. As the chief assistant state attorney, he earned $151,324 a year, according to the office.
After Bartlett decided to participate in the DROP program, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting state employees from being re-employed by a state agency for six months.
The law, in effect since 2010, was passed in part because the public grew weary of state employees retiring, receiving pensions, then getting new state jobs, a practice called double-dipping.
Bartlett did not rule out returning to the state attorney’s office.
“I’m too young to quit working,” Bartlett said. “There’s no guarantees there will be a job. That’s up to Bernie in six months, if I end up going there.”
McCabe said he would decide whether to rehire Bartlett after the six-month period. He already has named Bill Loughery as Bartlett’s replacement.
Bartlett worked in the state attorney’s office even before graduating from Stetson University College of Law as part of a clinic where promising lawyers-to-be worked with licensed lawyers.
With the state, “you try cases and you get to do stuff,” Bartlett said. “I really liked the job. It wasn’t a quick-rich scheme; it was one of the more exciting ways to practice law.”
He was hired soon after graduation and before he took the bar examination, Bartlett said. He was prosecuting a case the same week he got married and bought a house.