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: Weirdness in electing Florida judges is still as good as it gets


    Campaigning to be elected judge in Florida must sometimes feel like one of those strange dreams — the kind in which you're running but can't get anywhere, or trying to do something with your hands, only they're as big and clumsy as oven mitts.

    As a judicial candidate, you knock on doors, attend voter forums, visit editorial boards and wave signs on street corners asking people to vote for you, just like other candidates....

  2. Carlton: William LaTorre's trial changed how we think


    When Pinellas County chiropractor William LaTorre made headlines again — this time, with news of his suicide Thursday at age 73 — we remembered his trial. How could we not?

    The horrific boat wreck 25 years ago left four teenagers dead. And it was the first criminal case I ever followed that utterly changed from what we were sure we knew at the beginning, the verdict inevitable, into something completely different. Before O.J. and Rodney King, even....

  3. Carlton: Tampa snobby? Now that's a good one

    Human Interest

    Those annoying lists that rank cities are everywhere lately. They can be relevant, like the one about which towns you're most likely to die in while riding a bicycle. (Okay, here.) But they can veer off into the absurd, too, like, say, towns in which people are most likely to show up to court in flip-flops. (Okay, also here.)

    Travel + Leisure magazine's recent list of America's Snobbiest Cities starts out predictably enough: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Boston. Glam, culture, snoot, sophistication, history. Got it....

    Snobby? Our best known piece of bona fide public art is widely referred to as the Exploding Chicken. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
  4. William LaTorre, prominent doctor and driver in 1989 boating crash that killed four, found dead


    ST. PETERSBURG — To his friends, William LaTorre was a man driven by a quest to heal and ease others' suffering. Yet his greatest trauma — the day he killed four teens in a high-speed boating crash in 1989 — will forever define his life for many in the Tampa Bay area.

    The prominent Pinellas chiropractor shot himself in his office on 49th Street N Thursday morning, police said. Employees of the LaTorre Wellness Center found the 73-year-old dead when they arrived at work. Investigators found a gun at the scene but no note. His wife, Wendy, told police they had planned to celebrate their 38th anniversary that evening....

    Dr. William LaTorre takes the stand during his trial in the deaths of four teenagers in a boating accident. [MAURICE RIVENBARK   |   Times (1990)]
  5. Victor Crist's domestic partner registry support is suspicious — but who cares?


    The story that Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist told on the dais that day — the one with him rushing to the hospital in his pajamas — sounded a little suspicious to some.

    Could this be Crist's attempt to muddle the hotly controversial item — whether to set up a registry so unmarried people, gay or straight, could designate their partners to make decisions in times of medical emergency or death — before them? Was he trying to water down the important vote at hand?...

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist has previously voted against creating a registry so unmarried people, gay or straight, could designate their partners to make decisions in times of medical emergency or death. But he appears to have changed his mind and now supports the measure.
  6. Medical school is just what the doctor ordered


    A thriving, bustling medical school smack in the middle of downtown Tampa? As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn puts it, this would be a game changer. (If you don't mind a sports analogy about downtown that has nothing to do with actual sports, or baseball, or baseball downtown.)

    A very big buzz about downtown Tampa's future has long been baseball — specifically how to land the much-loved Tampa Bay Rays here from across the bay one day....

  7. Facing the Supreme Court, Hillsborough Judge Tracy Sheehan is reprimanded


    TALLAHASSEE — The judge from Tampa stood in the cool museum hush of the Florida Supreme Court, waiting Wednesday morning for it to be over.

    The impressive courthouse at the state capitol can quicken the pulse of even the most seasoned lawyer — all those tall pillars and polished marble, the looming ceilings and gleaming wood. It is a place, as one lawyer put it, that leaves no doubt about the seriousness of why you are here....

    Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan took a Breathalyzer test after her 2013 arrest and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. [Times (2010)]
  8. Carlton: Even in sex court, judges need to be dispassionate


    When it comes to Hillsborough County's specialized court for sex crimes, has the judge there done his time? Even gone over the line?

    For the record, specialty courts make a lot of sense. Set up to deal with specific crimes, they're an efficient way to handle probation violations for which defendants offer up bad excuses or plausible explanations, to give first-time drug offenders a second chance, even to deal with dog bites in animal court. Judges and lawyers get well versed on all the particulars....

    Judge Chet Tharpe listens to court proceedings on a Monday in June.
  9. Carlton: This guy's behind the tiki buzz all over Tampa (w/video)

    Human Interest

    The first act of urban guerrilla art occurred in broad daylight, with a chain saw.

    Drivers headed across the N Boulevard bridge toward downtown Tampa saw him: a tall guy studying a dead pine by the sidewalk. He carried a smallish chain saw I would later learn he calls "Little Precious."

    As he worked, a bold face and body emerged in the bark, a deep-carved, detailed wooden tiki. Then Jeff Chouinard, the guy with the chain saw, was gone. To the store for a Popsicle, it turns out, random roadside art being thirsty work....

    A 25-foot palm that died near the front yard of a Davis Islands home got the Chouinard treatment. The guerrilla artist has named his chain saw “Little Precious.”
  10. Carlton: Tampa's mayor, contrary to rumor, alive and also running


    The late Judge C. Luckey Jr. — Hillsborough County's longtime Southern-drawling public defender — had a saying about political campaigns. In his experience, he would tell you, the best way to run for office was (pause): "Unopposed."

    Don't politicians know it.

    Just when it looked as if Tampa's full-speed-ahead Bob Buckhorn would sail smoothly to a second mayoral term — fitting an unopposed election into his datebook somewhere between cutting another ribbon and reshaping downtown — came a recent plot twist....

  11. 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....

  12. 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."...

  13. 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....

  14. 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.
  15. 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?...