Make us your home page

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. A new frontier for Florida courts: Transgender name changes


    On a rainy summer afternoon inside the courthouse by the railroad tracks in Plant City, the case is halfway down the crowded docket.

    Petitioner: Christine Rose Novak, it reads. Name change.

    Weary-looking people fill the benches in family court, most of them here for divorces. But in the third row, wearing a vibrant blue necktie and the beginnings of a beard, sits the petitioner, his girlfriend at his side....

    Christopher Novak of Plant City smiles at Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan as he requests to legally change his name from Christine to Christopher in August. Sheehan approved.
  2. Carlton: Stand Your Ground insurance? It is Florida, after all

    Public Safety

    Florida facts: We have earned being called the Gunshine State. The National Rifle Association uses our lawmakers as sock puppets. And no pro-gun proposal is too absurd for these parts.

    So why should we be surprised at this latest insanity about Florida, guns and The American Way?

    As the world knows, this is loud-and-proud Stand Your Ground territory. Our law essentially says: Back down, hell — if I'm scared enough, I get to shoot. Retreat? Don't have to....

  3. Carlton: Will Tampa be The Town That Uber Forgot?


    Boy, will I miss Uber.

    Goodbye, chatty man who told me he started driving because retirement was boring. Goodbye, college kids and those driver guys who talked about their homelands in Ghana and in Syria on the way to the airport. Goodbye, Fred, who listened as I nervously practiced a speech in the backseat and gave me tips before he dropped me off.

    Seriously: Could Uber really be outta here? Could our relatively recent ridesharing option — already bolstering Tampa's rep as a practically legit city — actually have a foot out the door?...

  4. Carlton: In the swirl of a storm, City Council votes for sanity


    As Tampa officials were again deliberating over what to do about the city's storm-flooded streets, you couldn't help but notice that one concerned citizen stepped up to speak at this week's City Council meeting in a rain-spattered yellow slicker.

    Or that one council member declined to show up for the controversial vote on whether to assess a new stormwater fee because of the wicked weather that was yet again flooding city streets even as they spoke....

    Harry Cohen
  5. Carlton: The House that fell on Jim Norman


    Probably it was a sign things weren't going so well for would-be comeback kid Jim Norman when he started hollering at a voter.

    The once-powerful politician did this at a neighborhood forum days before this week's primary election. It was exactly the kind of gathering where Norman could once count on voters to listen raptly to his conservative causes and then sail him smoothly back into his comfy seat on the Hills­borough County Commission....

    Jim Norman
  6. Hillsborough Judge Gregory Holder is reprimanded by Florida Supreme Court



    His tie red, white and blue and his back military straight, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder stood Wednesday before the Florida Supreme Court to accept a reprimand for his advocacy on behalf of a veteran in his court.

    In a case that raised questions about the role of a judge in a court that emphasizes treatment over punishment, Holder was found to have gone too far on behalf of Clay Allred, then a troubled former U.S. Army Green Beret who behaved bizarrely and fired a gun in the air at a Tampa convenience store in 2014....

    Holder had tried to get Clay Allred readmitted to USF after the incident.
  7. Hillsborough judge is reprimanded by Florida Supreme Court


    TALLAHASSEE -- His tie red, white and blue and his back military straight, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder stood before the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday and accepted a reprimand for his advocacy on behalf of a veteran in his court.

    In a case that raised questions about the role of a judge in a court that emphasizes treatment over punishment, Holder was accused of crossing the line on behalf of Clay Allred, then a troubled former U.S. Army Green Beret who behaved bizarrely and fired a gun in the air at a Tampa convenience store in 2014....

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder shares a moment with his daughter Andrea Holder outside the Florida Supreme Court after a disciplinary hearing in Tallahassee, Florida August 31, 2016.
  8. Last two lawyers disbarred in Diaco DUI setup


    TAMPA — Calling it "among the most shocking, unethical and unprofessional" conduct they had ever witnessed by lawyers, the justices of the Florida Supreme Court made it both official and unanimous Thursday:

    All three Tampa attorneys who set up opposing counsel for a DUI arrest during a bare-knuckles trial in 2013 can never be lawyers in this state again.

    Though they hoped for a sentence short of forever, Robert Adams, 47, and Adam Filthaut, 42, are now permanently disbarred. Stephen Diaco, 47, was banned from practicing law for life in January....

    From left, Stephen Diaco, Adam Filthaut and Robert Adams have all been disbarred for setting up the DUI arrest of a rival lawyer during the Bubba the Love Sponge Clem defamation trial in Tampa in 2013. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2015)] 
  9. Carlton: Not a smoker's world anymore


    Now and again someone comes out with a list that ranks who is least popular in America. Politicians, lawyers, people who sell us cars —and, yes, journalists — usually make the cut.

    But we may have a new champion in smokers.

    Kicked outdoors by laws to protect those of us who don't care to inhale what they exhale, they gather outside in designated areas as if they were under quarantine. In the rain they huddle under office awnings to puff away as nonsmokers pass by holding their collective breath. At restaurants where ashtrays once shared table space with the salt and pepper, they are sent outside like disobedient dogs....

  10. Carlton: The dark ages for domestic violence


    He hit her on a weekend, when the courthouse where she could file for a restraining order to keep him away was closed.

    She had gotten herself somewhere safe. She called the local domestic violence shelter, but no workers deputized as court clerks were available to take her sworn statement about what happened to her. And that was the document a weekend-duty judge would consider in deciding whether to grant her protection....

  11. Carlton: Why are so many Hillsborough kids in foster care?


    How kids wind up in the foster care system is pretty much the same across Florida.

    Investigators look into allegations of parents who are angry, absent, in trouble or just unable to do the job of parenting. They look into reports of children who are not being cared for, neglected, hurt or worse.

    But according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times' Christopher O'Donnell, Hillsborough County moves more of those children from their homes and into safe shelter than any other county in the state. That's 1,672 in the last fiscal year, with kids going into foster care 14 times for every 100 investigations. That's compared to a state rate of eight in 100....

  12. Carlton: Finally, a no-brainer ferry between downtowns


    Here is the biggest no-brainer in the history of the world, or at least the history of around here.

    Okay, that much enthusiasm for ferry service between the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa may be a little over the top. But only a little.

    In an unusual show of — wait, can that actually be regional cooperation we're seeing? — the cities and counties necessary to make this happen are sounding downright enthusiastic at the idea of pitching in $350,000 each for a six-month study to see if such a ferry would work....

    The 98-foot, 149-passenger vessel would travel round-trip between the Tampa and St. Petersburg downtowns twice a day Saturday through Thursday and three times on Fridays, at $10 a ride.
  13. Carlton: Flossing bravely on, and other notes from the week

    Human Interest

    You do a thing thinking you are being virtuous.

    You recycle. You pick up what your dog leaves behind at the park. You put your neighbor's far-flung newspaper on the porch for easier reach.

    And you floss.

    You floss because you have been told to do so practically since you lost your last baby tooth and the tooth fairy quit showing up. You do it even if it is not especially fun. The first floss I used felt like shoving fishing line between your teeth until a kindhearted hygienist introduced me to the more satiny stuff — still dental floss, but with power steering....

    FILE -- Dental floss products in New York, March 30, 2015. Although dental floss may not improve your health, it can help with many ordinary tasks, such as cutting cakes, and not-so-ordinary ones, like escaping form prison. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times) XNYT14
  14. Carlton: Gov. Rick Scott shuns gun control in favor of absurd logic

    Public Safety

    Sometimes if you say a thing often enough, it is widely perceived as truth. (Example: Kale tastes good.)

    Last week at a news conference following Florida's latest big shooting — this time, at a Fort Myers nightclub where young people had gathered for a summer bash — Gov. Rick Scott brushed off the matter of whether it's time to take a look at our gun laws.

    "I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment has never shot anybody," the governor said. "Evil does this."...

    “I support the Second Amendment,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott says. “The Second Amendment has never shot anybody.” [Associated Press] 
  15. Carlton: I wish my mother was here to see this


    A lot of women in America probably had the same thought as I did this week:

    Man, I wish my mom was still alive to see this.

    Hillary Clinton just became the first woman with a true shot at becoming president of the United States, a gender accomplishment other countries that we consider inferior to us have somehow already managed.

    No doubt this is less remarkable to younger women who have seen persons of their gender in power long enough not to notice. That they can be nonchalant is because of women who came before them, like my mother....