Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sue Carlton: Showing good judgment, judge owns up to mistake

There's this saying: Sometimes it's not what you do, it's what you do after.

Okay, sometimes it's what you do, too. What Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan did, she will tell you, was make the "horrible decision" to drive after she'd had drinks with a favorite cousin in Ybor City last weekend.

This got her arrested and booked like anyone else, got her a night in a cold cell in the county jail, got her mug shot splashed across the news.

Here is what she did after: "I'm mortified at my choice," she told the reporters whom she did not turn away when they came knocking. This was not a mistake, she said, "not like I wore I blue socks with my black pants. This was a colossal lack of judgment."

Here is what the judge did not do: She did not throw a Reese Witherspoon-style, do-you-know-who-I-am hissy fit with police. She did not invoke her position or ask for any special treatment.

"I wish they were all as cooperative," Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Ken Davis, who runs the jail, told me. "It was actually kind of refreshing to see someone take accounting for their behavior for a change."

Certain savvy lawyers who have handled a DUI or two will tell you that if you suspect you are over the limit, you should not agree to a breath test and should not "blow." Refusing may give you other legal headaches, but if you do not blow, you also do not provide that particular evidence against yourself, the logic goes.

The judge blew.

"I had already made a horrible decision and could not compound it by playing lawyer," she says. (She also described the "blow ladies" at the jail as "nice.") She blew a 0.161 and a 0.171.

Like anyone else, the judge lay on a concrete bench in a cell. She thought about how other people had handled themselves after something like this. She thought of whatever fellow judge would read her name off the docket in the morning.

When they checked on her she assured them: No, not suicidal, just mad at myself. She politely declined the bologna sandwich and used the bathroom right there where people could see. Hey, she thought, this is what you get in jail.

Of course, she had been here before as a lawyer seeing clients. And when you are not incarcerated yourself, you hear with some relief the cha-chunk of the heavy metal doors behind you when you get to leave. That was nothing compared to when she got out now, holding her belongings in a paper bag with SHEEHAN scrawled across it.

Reporters asked: Didn't you know you shouldn't drive that night? "I guess that's a function of alcohol — you don't think that way," she answered. "But I, of all people, should know better."

She says she will plead guilty and do what her sentence requires. She will not attempt to buy out community service hours instead of performing them. She seems most upset at the idea that anyone would think her a hypocrite.

She is popular at the courthouse, friendly but also tough, a petite Harley rider with a piercing stare from the bench. She has long been a fierce advocate for kids both in and out of court.

She knows she will be remembered for what happened, but I think for something else, too: that she was a judge who did something wrong, and then stepped up and owned it.

Sue Carlton: Showing good judgment, judge owns up to mistake 07/09/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 9, 2013 9:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning: Jon Cooper takes unusual tact to create mistmatches

    Lightning Strikes

    Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper argues the called as his team gets a faceoff violation, leading to penalty and #Caps PP goal, during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (10/09/17).DIRK SHADD   |   Times
  2. Hillsborough teachers get a hard no on scheduled pay raises

    Blogs

    The Hillsborough County School District cannot afford to advance teachers to their next year's pay levels, employee relations manager Mark West told the union at Monday afternoon's bargaining session.

    This might be the last teacher bargaining session in Hillsborough for awhile. Although the two sides are not officially at an impasse, the district says it cannot pay teachers their scheduled raises.
  3. Editorial: A neighborhood under attack unites

    Editorials

    Three murders in two weeks understandably have Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood on edge. But Tampa police and residents are working together to find the killer and are connecting in ways that will strengthen the community in the long run. This is the best reaction to the tragedy of the three deaths, and it should …

    Seminole Heights residents came together in a candlelight vigil Sunday night to pay respect to the families and to demonstrate that they will not be cowed into staying indoors.
  4. Students at middle school pretend to rape black classmates on Snapchat

    Nation

    The Snapchat had just about every offensive topic the middle school students could cram into a video clip: race-based simulated sexual assaults, profanity-laced slurs and repulsive language that shocked whoever the intended audience was - and, eventually, many more people.

    Students at a Virginia middle school pretended to rape other students on video, which was shared on Snapchat. Reports say white members of a football team enacted the rape scenes while in the locker room. This photo of a standard locker room is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
  5. Seminole Heights restaurants face struggles amid killings, post-Irma

    Food & Dining

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — The neighborhood's hip circle of popular, well-regarded restaurants is feeling the squeeze in the wake of a recent killing spree. And the timing is rough.

    Ella's American Folk Art Cafe. Times files