BROOKSVILLE — Once gunning to be Hernando County sheriff, Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee now has his eye on the clerk of Circuit Court post — and is poised to get some on-the-job training.
Barbee, 42, has been tapped by Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai to serve as the office's director of court services and in-house general counsel.
The Spring Hill resident, who has led the State Attorney's Office in Brooksville since 2008, acknowledged Monday for the first time publicly that he has changed his political ambitions and is strongly considering a bid for clerk.
"When Mrs. Nicolai decides her job time is done, I'm hopeful I'll be in the right position and have gathered the right experience to be considered by the voters," Barbee said.
Nicolai picked Barbee after interviewing all six of the qualified people who applied for the post.
She said his diverse resume, knowledge of human resources and familiarity with Hernando County and the local legal scene made him the clear choice.
"There were some really good applicants, but Don obviously has a lot of experience locally," Nicolai said. "He's a perfect guy for this job. My team of directors feel very comfortable with him."
The person in the position — one of six directors in the clerk's office — manages between 50 and 60 employees who operate all court-related functions.
Barbee also will advise Nicolai on legal issues, so the job description requires a law degree.
Barbee replaces Jana Miller, who is retiring after 12 years on the job. He will be paid $95,000 a year, slightly more than his current salary, but less than Miller, who earned $108,500. His first day is May 16.
Nicolai declined to comment on Barbee's political ambitions. She reiterated Tuesday what she has said for months: that she is leaning toward retiring when her term is up in 2012 but hasn't decided for sure.
The news didn't come as a big surprise.
Barbee applied last year to fill the remainder of Hernando Sheriff Richard Nugent's term. Nugent was elected to Congress in November, halfway through his term as sheriff, and resigned in December.
Then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Al Nienhuis, undersheriff in Pasco County, to take the position.
Barbee initially had said he would probably still run for sheriff in 2012. Then rumblings started about him eyeing Nicolai's job instead.
Barbee said family considerations made him change his mind.
"I've been in law enforcement for 20 years and have two daughters in the school system here," he said. "After many discussions with my wife, we decided (sheriff) may not be the best alternative right now.
The other big factor, he said: As a candidate for sheriff, decisions he made as the chief prosecutor would almost certainly be questioned in a "hyper-political" environment.
Barbee worked as a patrol officer in Fairfield, Conn., while he earned a bachelor's degree at Sacred Heart University and a master's degree from Southern Connecticut State University.
He retired as a police officer in 1997 and received a law degree from the University of Florida. In 1998, he joined a law firm in Tampa; two years later, he took a job with the FBI in the Boston bureau.
After the birth of their second child, Barbee and his wife moved to Florida, where Barbee joined the 5th Circuit State Attorney's Office in 2002. He transferred to Brooksville in 2004.
Donald "Sonny" McCathran, an assistant state attorney in the Ocala office, will take Barbee's post in Hernando, said Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway.
McCathran is currently a docket manager supervising five attorneys, Ridgway said. He visited the Brooksville office Tuesday to meet staff.
"You hate to lose good people, but it's the inevitable part of this job that you do," Ridgway said of Barbee's departure. "We're sorry to see him leave and wish him the best."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]