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: Hillsborough's new chief judge plans on transparency, collegiality


    Once upon a time, the Hillsborough County courthouse was a fascinating place.

    Oh, it's still pretty interesting, what with all the murder trials and big-money lawsuits and such. But in recent years, people in trouble there tended to be defendants rather than, you know, judges.

    Back then, a stream of them left the bench under assorted clouds — a tawdry affair with a bailiff, a sneaky creep through an enemy judge's chambers after hours, that sort of thing....

  2. Carlton: Vinik on hiring, county commission on progress


    Man of the Moment Jeff Vinik — Tampa Bay Lightning owner, current co-architect of what downtown Tampa will one day look like, philanthropist and gazillionaire — gave some notable quotes recently regarding how he likes to hire for important jobs.

    Said Vinik in a recent piece in the Tampa Bay Business Journal headlined How to Hire Like Jeff Vinik:

    "I like to take people for high level positions — I like to go out to dinner with them and their wife and me and my wife," Vinik, a former hedge fund manager, said. "I like to see how they treat their wife, and I like to see how they treat the waiter. I think that gives insight into character."...

  3. Carlton: Athena shows much about the politics of powerful women


    At the Athena Society, made up of some of the most powerful women in town, a single word is causing quite a stir — and maybe even the resignation of some judges from its ranks.

    Funny, but the word is "nonpartisan," which is supposed to mean not political — in theory, at least.

    Even if you are not familiar with Athena — described by a newspaper reporter at their meeting a quarter-century ago as Tampa's most influential women "wearing impressive titles like nice shawls" — you would surely recognize names on its roster....

  4. Carlton — Gay marriage in Florida: History will judge


    Four years ago, Florida's third-of-a-century-long ban on gay adoption finally fell. And remarkably, the family unit as we know it has not crumbled. Life has continued. For some kids, it surely got even better.

    By now, it seems crazy in retrospect: Until an appeals court overturned the ban in 2010 and public officials declined to fight the ruling, two qualified adults who wanted to make a family were denied by a law that no longer stood in any other state in America....

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has said she has sworn to uphold the state Constitution, which includes the gay marriage ban that was passed by voters.
  5. Carlton: Bell Shoals' Baptist Church's voter guide fails to educate


    Truly, it is hard to pick the most unabashedly loaded question in the Bell Shoals Baptist Church's official 2014 Voter Guide.

    Maybe it's question No. 4, posed by the influential Brandon megachurch to candidates ranging from the gubernatorial down to your local school board, the only possible answers being yes, no or unsure:

    Do you agree that the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees an individual the right to own and possess firearms and this right should not be infringed upon in any way?...

  6. Carlton: Political intrigue, with a nosh, in Tampa City Council race


    The most intriguing political conversations in town once took place over fragrant plates of Sea Bass A La Rusa served on white linen at Valencia Garden — where everyone who was anyone broke Cuban bread until the place sadly closed.

    (A respectful pause to recall Valencia's oversized menus presented with flourish, the man-hugs and air-kisses between tables and the careful noting of who sat where and with whom. There will never be another Valencia.)...

  7. Carlton: In the Ray Rice case, a chance to change domestic violence

    Public Safety

    Decades pass and the domestic violence cases never stop, always there on the docket with the DUIs and drug buys of first-appearance court.

    He shoved her, the arrest reports say, he slapped her, he hit her with a closed fist. By now, Judge Walter Heinrich — for many years, a Hillsborough County arrestee's first shot at bail — has his admonition down to a stern soliloquy: Until this is resolved, you will not live with her, see her, talk to her, be near her, in any way communicate with her, about anything, under any circumstance. He is not playing....

  8. Hillsborough has chance to right domestic registry wrong

    Local Government

    Across Florida, providing citizens with domestic partner registries has been a no-brainer.

    Because here's the question at the heart of it: Shouldn't unmarried couples know their significant others will have the same basic and important rights as married couples in times of crisis? The right to visit them in the hospital, to make medical decisions when they can't, to handle funeral arrangements if the worst happens?...

  9. Experts not surprised as Janay Rice defends Ray Rice


    "I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it's reality is a nightmare itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted (opinions) from the public has caused my family," said the woman who was punched unconscious by the semifamous football player, then her fiance, now her husband....

    Ray Rice, right, pauses during a news conference at the Ravens training center in Owings Mills, Md., in May. His wife, Janay, is at left. [Getty Images]
  10. Carlton: Despite potty mouth, lawyer gets it right on medical marijuana


    At the least, we should credit lawyer John "For the People" Morgan with knowing his audience in his recent and notable pitch to legalize medical marijuana.

    There he was, that familiar round face from those TV commercials and billboards you see everywhere, live at the microphone at a rowdy Lakeland night spot after a debate with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. The reported venue: The Boots 'N Buckles Saloon....

    Lawyer John Morgan, who has led and funded the campaign to legalize medical marijuana, is right when he says that if voters care about the issue, they need to vote.
  11. Carlton: Scared to death? That's life on thrill rides

    Human Interest

    So I just rode Busch Gardens' newest stomach-in-your-throat thrill ride, Falcon's Fury.

    I'm not sure what this particular falcon was so mad about, but apparently the revenge is a ride that takes you 335 feet above the world strapped into a harness seat that leaves your legs vulnerable and dangling. For perspective, that's taller than the Statue of Liberty and so high over north Tampa that you can see clear to Tropicana Field in St. Pete....

    Times Web developer Alexis N. Sanchez, left, and columnists John Romano and Sue Carlton ride Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens in Tampa on Wednesday. The ride is the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America, at 335 feet. It swivels to put riders facedown before falling 60 mph toward the ground.
  12. An ambitious plan to stop violence, one kid at a time

    Public Safety

    You could see the news unveiled this week out of Hillsborough County schools as either alarming or encouraging — take your pick.

    The positive: Of nearly 2,000 public high school students who responded to a survey, 98 percent expressed a sense of belonging in their schools. Call me cynical, but given that we're talking teenagers in ninth to 12th grade, I would expect a number way more, well, cynical....

  13. A Luddite laments a bookless library for Florida Poly


    If you have ever spent time at the library, in the cool quiet with the dusty-clean smell of books all around you, these may be bleak words:

    Our state's newest public university, the just-opened Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland, features an 11,000-square-foot library.

    Without books.

    A bookless library.

    And is that the ghost of John D. MacDonald off in the stacks, quietly weeping? Oh, wait, there are no stacks....

    Florida Polytechnic University’s Science and Technology Building is a bold statement for innovation, but should the institution’s appetite for the cutting edge be the death knell for cover-bound books at the library on its Lakeland campus?
  14. Carlton: It's time for body cameras for cops

    Public Safety

    Even as the police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., slowly plays out with the world watching, a lot of people clearly believe they already know the truth:

    This was an overzealous cop from a mostly white department policing a mostly black community, with the victim both unarmed and black.

    Or, this 18-year-old who had just committed a robbery was the aggressor when he crossed paths with police....

    Police arrest a demonstrator last week protesting the Aug. 9 killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, but very little other information is available. If Wilson had been equipped with a body camera, we would have more facts to consider.
  15. Carlton: Public art seeks a place in the heart of Tampa


    Tampa has its interesting public art, from metal horses on Bayshore Boulevard to theatrically lighted downtown bridges to all the sculpture, statuary and such in between.

    But sometimes we struggle, artwise. A massive metal sculpture nicknamed the Exploding Chicken once graced (or marred, depending on your perspective) a respectable corner outside a tall downtown office building. A bona fide Sugarman piece, it was nonetheless shunned and exiled until it was recently reborn at a kitschier spot in a traffic roundabout near the Channelside entertainment complex. It seems much happier there....