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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 kid in court, a face like his own, a guardian ad litem


    They fill the chairs and lean against the walls outside the juvenile dependency courtroom, the mood somewhere between stifling tedium and quiet despair.

    Parents, grandparents, lawyers, child welfare workers — they're all here for the kids, or because of them, the abused, neglected and abandoned children taken into the system. Now that system is working on answers: Can these parents be better parents, is there a family member to step in, is putting a child up for adoption ultimately what's best?...

  2. Carlton: Texting and driving, a stupid idea whose time has come in Tallahassee


    I am convinced that one day future generations will look back on us and say:

    Boy, was that stupid.

    Well, yes, this could cover an alarming number of current scenarios. But for today we're talking about a sobering dose of reality on Florida roads.

    Picture this: Right now, a barely ready to shave teenager can pass his Florida driving test and climb behind the wheel with his freshly laminated license still warm in his wallet. Then he can pull onto a busy highway — all the while text-text-texting away on his cellphone to his buddies about his new found four-wheeled freedom, ignoring that eyes-on-the-road part of the exam he somehow managed to pass....

    A driver holds a cellphone Wednesday while turning onto Ninth Avenue N from Fourth Street in St. Petersburg.
  3. Carlton: Before circus nostalgia even children had doubts

    Human Interest

    When I was little, my mother took to me to the circus.

    She was a teacher chaperoning her class on a field trip, and I would get to miss a whole day of first grade to go along. It would be my first time and a very big deal. I wore my red sneakers.

    And we're not talking about some fly-by-night vacant lot carnival here. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was in town, which was as good as a circus got....

    Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson opens a rehearsal show at the Florida State Fairgrounds in December 2009. The circus announced Saturday that the current season would be its final one.
  4. Carlton: The politics of feeding the homeless


    This week brought two news stories about the city of Tampa and the empathy it shows its citizens.

    Some of them, anyway.

    You can't really begrudge retired New York Yankee star Derek Jeter for requesting help with the barrage of fans who regularly troop to his massive Davis Islands manse — taking videos, hoping for a glimpse of the World Series champ, even on occasion employing drones....

    Tampa’s Variance Review Board this week approved a request from retired New York Yankees star Derek Jeter to replace his existing 6-foot security gate at his Davis Islands mansion with a new gate that’s 8 feet tall at its highest point and opaque so that passers-by can’t see into his property. Neighbors and Jeter’s representative say uninvited visitors come by constantly and get out of their cars to take pictures, shoot video and even fly drones at the property. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
  5. Carlton: Arrested for feeding homeless people? It's complicated

    Public Safety

    It is tempting to begin discussion of the recent dispute in a downtown Tampa park thusly:

    Good news, everyone! Apparently serious crime is nonexistent and Tampa police have plenty of time to arrest good-hearted people who dare to serve food to the homeless. Particularly when there's a big college football game packing the town.

    Except the truth — like the problem of homelessness at the root of all this — is more complex....

    Tampa police Lt. Kim Plourdes-Torres, second from right, briefs officers Tuesday as protesters form a human wall around the line serving the homeless at the park.
  6. Carlton: Let those who ride be safer with helmets


    Get this straight:

    We do not need government telling us what to do.

    Wait, scratch that.

    We ourselves do not need such guidance. Don't Tread On Us and all that.

    However, there are others who apparently require rules on, say, brake lights that actually work when they are driving the car in front of us and decide to suddenly stop. And don't even get me started on those drivers oblivious to the thing by the steering wheel the rest of us know as a "blinker" when they whip over into our lane....

  7. For Tampa's Bob Buckhorn, the photo op is the message


    TAMPA — Now here's some news: There are, in fact, photos that Tampa mayor and potential Democratic candidate for governor Bob Buckhorn will not take.

    Not that you'd know it. His six years in office have amassed a View-Master's worth of images of the mayor:

    Blasting away on a .50-caliber machine gun, driving an earth mover and smashing into a vacant house with a tractor-mounted demolition claw....

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn wields a meat cleaver to celebrate the opening of a new Holy Hog Barbecue location in 2014.  JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times
  8. Carlton: The barely true, slightly askew Year in Review Part 2 for 2016

    Human Interest

    Part 2 of the barely true, slightly askew Year in Review of 2016:

    A Times investigation reveals alarmingly expired items on the shelves of local Walmarts, including baby food, children's medicine and, for that extra-special ick factor, 3-week-old sour cream.

    Further investigation indicates store employees just didn't have time to update the shelves because they were too busy snapping those wacky "People of Walmart" pictures for the Internet....

  9. Carlton: Judge K, full-time powerhouse on the federal bench at 80


    Well, yes, since I asked. The federal judge did love those stiletto heels of hers.

    If you saw U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich at the federal courthouse in Tampa over the years, perhaps you noticed them too: those glamorous, teetering Sex and the City shoes below dour judicial robes.

    "I can't wear those babies anymore," says Judge K, as the lawyers call her. Rather matter-of-factly, she reports that she has lost 6 inches since her 5-foot-8-and-a-half teenage basketball playing days, or when she was photographed meeting Dwight D. Eisenhower in gloves, hat and heels (her in the heels, not him)....

  10. Carlton: Faith or football? It's a Christmas Eve dilemma for Bucs fans


    If your attendance at church tends to be spotty like mine, you should know that preachers have a name for us.

    We are CEs when they only get a glimpse of us at Christmas and/or Easter, there at the behest of our families or because we like holiday services. And we are CMEs if we also show up on Mother's Day.

    Now, if you also happen to be a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan — one who bleeds not just red but also pewter and knows that today's game is critical to making the playoffs and dare we even imagine the Super Bowl — well then....

  11. Carlton: Giving at Christmas, an option to knocking people's hats off

    Human Interest

    The boy looked to be about 5. He stood in line at Trinity Cafe, waiting with the grown-ups around him to be seated for the midday meal served to anyone who's hungry.

    Every day, this dining room at the edge of downtown Tampa fills with the sounds of conversation and clanging cutlery, the whirl of volunteers moving between tables and the smells of hot food.

    But the boy was focused on something else: a smallish bookcase against a wall, painted white and donated by local Girl Scouts who autographed it with their troop number, 3052. Which the boy likely didn't notice because he was taking in all the books....

  12. Carlton: We need a little Christmas more than a lot of Bubba

    Human Interest

    This week on the way to work I wandered the radio dial as is my habit, tooling from highbrow NPR down to the Bubba the Love Sponge Show.

    There, I braced myself for his haw-haw-haw topic du jour.

    Would it be a graphic chat with a porn star, perhaps? A painfully off-key, seriously crude and not even particularly funny parody song? Bubba and the boys grilling a caller on her cup size, or the host himself detailing his latest trip to the men's room?...

    Songs like Frosty the Snowman now grace the airwaves at 98.7-FM. [Warner/Chappell Music Inc.]
  13. Carlton: How not to park in downtown Tampa


    Okay, so it's not quite the same as being a man without a country. But suddenly I find myself a woman without a parking space.

    Except in college when I waited tables and we lowly employees were banished to the outermost edges of the mall parking lot, I have always parked where I worked. This seemed a given, like a desk chair or an office holiday party. Who knew that in a world of blooming downtowns, parking could become a luxury?...

  14. 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
  15. 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....

    An electrical fire that started in a generator room knocked out power to most of Bayonet Point Hospital in Hudson on Wed., Aug. 31, 2016, forcing the evacuation of all 209 patients. [JOSH SOLOMON | Times]