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Sue Carlton, Times Columnist

Sue Carlton

Sue Carlton is a native Floridian from a longtime Southern family that her father always said consisted of thieves and cattle rustlers run out of Georgia. She grew up in Miami and joined the Tampa Bay Times in 1988. Over the years she has covered community news, politics, cops, government, and her all-time favorite, criminal courts. For nearly nine years she wrote about the kind of strange cases that only seem to happen here, about intriguing legal issues and courthouse politics. On that beat, she authored a lengthy narrative series on a trooper who killed his wife and co-authored a series on a suburban mother murdered by her teenage daughter and her friends. Sue was the deputy editor of the features section and was the Tampa city editor before she became a columnist in 2005. Three times a week, she writes about politics, outrages, observations, court cases of the day and whatever else comes up. She lives in Tampa with her husband and their very good dog.

Phone: (813) 226-3376 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 3376


  1. Carlton: A name for Vinik's, uh, vision, and other signs of the times


    It's almost refreshing that Jeff Vinik, the money man ready to transform a chunk of once-sleepy downtown Tampa into something bigger, does not much care for the nickname "Vinikville."

    That's the working title some use for a planned and ambitious remake of the southern end of downtown into a vibrant business, residential and entertainment district. With, if all goes well, a medical school to boot....

  2. Carlton: High court should keep that paper wall between judges and money


    So this local lawyer who got in hot water with the Florida Bar while running for judge now has the ear of the highest court in the land.

    And what the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides in her case could change the way judges run for office — and not for the better.

    Lawyer Lanell Williams-Yulee did not win her race five years ago against Dick Greco Jr., a longtime Hills­borough County judge who has a family name that's big in Tampa to boot....

  3. Carlton: Why Sally Harris cast the deciding vote to oust MaryEllen Elia


    Interesting fact about Sally Harris, the brand-new Hillsborough County School Board member who cast this week's deciding and explosive vote to oust schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia:

    Absolutely no one thought Harris would win her race in the first place.

    How could she? Her opponent, Michelle Shimberg, carries a very big name in this town. She got endorsements and/or donations from no less than (deep breath) the mayor, the sheriff, the state attorney, Florida's attorney general, the classroom teachers association and members of the City Council, County Commission and, oh yeah, Congress. She also raised five times more money than Harris....

    Sally Harris said MaryEllen Elia is “an icon,” but she felt change was needed.
  4. Carlton: A commissioner's gay marriage, a mayor's beer, a doctor's note


    Congratulations to Hills­borough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner on his recent marriage. Sort of.

    The county's first openly gay commissioner was one of only a few elected officials to show up for a mass wedding near the courthouse on the day same-sex marriage became legal in Florida. Later, Beckner and his longtime partner — Hillsborough sheriff's Sgt. Gil Sainz — were seen celebrating with couples who married on that historic day....

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner married his longtime partner on the first day that gay marriage became legal in Florida. 
  5. Carlton: School Board should think before giving Elia the boot


    Okay, it's no longer amusing.

    What's happening, or may be about to happen, over at the Hillsborough County school district has officially stopped seeming like petty squabbles and turned into a full-blown game-changer.

    And not in a good way.

    Maybe you've read past headlines regarding certain members of the school board who seem perpetually at odds with the powerful superintendent, MaryEllen Elia. Who, program note here, was just named Florida's superintendent of the year and is a finalist for top in the nation....

    Firing Hillsborough County schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia would cost more than $1 million in salary, benefits and unused sick time, according to numbers released Friday by the school district.
  6. Carlton: Judges ordered to keep an eye on fellow judges


    Being a judge in Florida can be a pretty sweet gig.

    You get the robe, the good parking space, and the authority over an entire courtroom in which a lot of interesting and important things tend to happen. And how's this for a perk: You have no real day-to-day boss and pretty much come and go as you please. Sure, voters could oust you, should you get an actual rare challenger. Or if things are really bad, you might find yourself getting a look from the state agency that polices the judiciary....

  7. Sue Carlton: The legacy of Phoebe


    She had trouble with hearts, but she was determined.

    She was 5 and in kindergarten and loved, loved, loved to draw, loved it since her first box of dollar store crayons. She drew kitty cats and tracings of her own hand and declarations of love with the Ks and Js backward, and she gave them to grownups she cared about.

    But hearts, for which she had as much enthusiasm as the colors pink and purple — stay in the box, you sad black and browns — eluded her, the way you had to get both sides even....

    A photo of Phoebe Jonchuck. The little girl was found in the water by a search team from Eckerd College about an hour and 40 minutes after being dropped from a bridge.
  8. Carlton: Giving felons a second chance in Florida: the American way


    In Florida, we do have our dubious distinctions — like the paltry amount we're willing to spend on each student in our schools. Or our penchant for killing pedestrians. Or the fact that, unlike most other states, we do not require a unanimous jury vote in favor of putting someone to death.

    Here's another:

    Florida is a state that apparently does not believe in giving criminals a second chance even after they've done their time....

  9. Carlton: Can Tampa transform a sad, sweet trolley?


    I rode Tampa's historic streetcar the other day. And it was …


    It wasn't sad just because only a few silver-haired tourists and I rumbled along the 2.7-mile stretch between the southern edge of downtown east and north to the Latin Quarter of Ybor City. Yep, just us — even though it was a sunny workday, when downtowners pour out of tall buildings in droves to lunch at a bevy of restaurants....

    The Tampa trolley is a charming but little used mode of transportation between downtown and Ybor City. It could find more purpose if it aligns with a downtown Tampa in revival.
  10. Pam Iorio for mayor of Tampa in 2019? 'Absolutely no plans to do that'


    As Pam Iorio officially announced Wednesday what the Tampa Bay Times reported last month — that she’s coming home and bringing the headquarters of Big Brothers Big Sisters with her — Tampa’s former mayor could barely speak....

  11. Carlton: How will history see Florida's fight for gay marriage rights?

    Human Interest

    They poured into Room 140 of the Hillsborough County Courthouse on Tuesday morning two by two, some with friends and family in tow, exhilarated, bearing bouquets, holding hands, filling the place with their energy. This day was big and unstoppable and happening at last.

    In their midst stood Pat Frank, the petite 85-year-old clerk of the court, cheered by the crowd like a rock star. She wore the somber black robes of her late husband, Judge Richard Frank, and posed obligingly with her arms around couples for wedding photos. "This is a wonderful day for America," she told everyone, but you could tell they already knew it....

    Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank, right, embraces Shirley Winslow, left, and Brenda Cuevas on Tuesday morning. “I have waited for this day for a long time,” Frank told the couple. Frank later married the couple, thus becoming Hillsborough County’s first same-sex marriage. Winslow and Cuevas have been a couple for 25 years. Frank was wearing the robe of her late husband, Judge Richard Frank. The Franks were married more than 60 years.
  12. Carlton: Rules good for man and manatee alike


    If you have ever had a close encounter with a manatee, you probably get it.

    Maybe you were in a boat when this giant gray potato of a creature glided by, close enough to see the scars criss-crossing his hide. (Chances are he had scars.)

    Or you were on a beach when a manatee raised its whiskery snout from the water's surface. Or you stood on a dock or a bridge and — look, a manatee, one of the most interesting animals you'll ever get to see, just trying to make its way in a world that has not been kind to it....

    A manatee inspects snorkeler Julie Barney, right, and her mother, Laura Rogers, both of Vero Beach, while swimming near the entrance to Three Sisters Springs on Dec. 15.
  13. Carlton: The Only Somewhat True Year in Review


    Medical marijuana, battling governors and Bollywood Oscars, oh my. What a year it was. And so here for you is the not-especially-true year in review for the first half of 2014:

    • With the Florida Supreme Court's approval of language that will appear on the ballot, voters officially get to decide whether medical marijuana should be legal in the Sunshine State.

    Immediately, lawyer John You-Will-Not-Turn-Your-TV-On-Without-Seeing-Me Morgan launches his statewide, unofficially named Free Cheetos If You Vote Yes, Dude bus tour....

    Charlie Crist wanted a second chance to be governor, this time as a Democrat. Voters said no.
  14. Carlton: Gay marriage not court clerk's first rodeo


    On gay marriage, we are a state on the brink of something inevitable, with our unlikeliest elected officials in the thick of it.

    A federal judge struck down Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, then stayed his decision until after Jan. 5. So now everyone's in a scramble: Did his ruling apply only in the rural Panhandle county where one of the couples challenging the ban lives? If court clerks in other counties issue marriage licenses to gay couples beginning Jan. 6, could they face criminal prosecution? Seriously?...

    Pat Frank, the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court
  15. Hillsborough's controversial sex offender court is disbanded


    TAMPA — For 14 years, criminal cases involving accused rapists, molesters and child abusers in Hillsborough County have been heard by a single judge in the sex offender division.

    Advocates of this highly specialized court for pedophiles and predators call it a smart, efficient way to handle difficult cases with unique sensitivities. But critics say no judge can hear the horrifying details of rape and abuse day after day without becoming biased — particularly when children are victims....

    Judge Chet Tharpe, who presided over the sex crimes court for 14 years, is known for dramatic pronouncements and sometimes lengthy sentences.