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Ethics watchdog Claypool retires after 35 years

The man whose name and signature appears on hundreds if not thousands of ethics opinions is retiring after 35 years.

Phil Claypool, 61, joined the legal staff of the Florida Commission on Ethics in 1976, two years after the Legislature created it. He took the job fresh out of law school at Florida State. Today is his last day.

He became executive director five years ago when longtime staffer Bonnie Williams retired. He retained his title and duties as general counsel because he loves practicing law.

So why did he make a career out of his first out-of-college job? Mainly, he said, getting to learn the ins and outs of Florida's government. In order to determine if an ethics violation occurred, he said, you have to know the rules governing each state agency.

Supplying the ever-changing, nine-person commission with facts and research so members can make a decision is "sort of like working for the Supreme Court," he said.

"Because of this job, I really think the Ethics Commission has the highest duty to speak the truth of any agency," he said.

Plus, he said, "you get to see some of the really dumb things people do." He declined to give examples.

His retirement is not a surprise. The commission last spring appointed deputy director Virlindia Doss as his replacement. Doss prosecuted ethics cases for 13 years at the Attorney General's office before joining the commission in 2003.

Claypool expects to pick up a second career in law next year. It won't be in state government, he said.

"You're only eligible for DROP for a certain period of time, so I'm out, I'm leaving," he said. "I will not return."

For now, he sees golf, motorcycle rides, camping trips, and spending time with his wife and children on the horizon.

-- Steve Bousquet contributed.