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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 city, a gun, a teenager gone

    Public Safety

    He was a teenager about to begin whatever the rest of his life would be.

    Next week's first day of school would have made 14-year-old Edward Harris IV — E.J., they called him — officially a high school freshman. Done would be the mornings his dad drove him to Greco Middle School, home of the Cubs. Tuesday, E.J. could have climbed aboard a big yellow school bus outside his modest home in Woodland Terrace and stepped off of it at Tampa's sprawling, storied Hillsborough High, the oldest high school in the city....

    Edward Harris IV was shot and killed near Woodlawn Terrace Park in Tampa. [Courtesy of Wanda Harris]
  2. Joseph M. Joeb, former Hillsborough teacher, beloved curmudgeon, pens his own obituary


    TAMPA — It would surprise no one who knew Joseph M. Joeb that he wrote his own obituary. Or how he wrote it.

    Mr. Joeb, self-proclaimed curmudgeon, artist, author, parrot enthusiast and, most important, teacher, died last week at age 72 — "which was sooner than he wanted but pretty much when he expected," his obituary said. He had, after all, survived an earlier bout with lung cancer, and so he was already past his "sell by" date....

    Mr. Joeb wrote in his obituary that he was “politically incorrect, curmudgeonly, a fan of shaggy dog stories and elephant jokes.”
  3. Carlton: She's gone — School Board can stop squabbling now


    You might have thought that once certain members of the Hills- borough County School Board finally ran their archnemesis out of town on a rail, they would be ready to move on to the business of running actual schools.

    You might be wrong.

    At least this time their squabble with former superintendent MaryEllen Elia goes beyond style points and their long-held objections to Elia's fiercely autocratic way of getting things done....

    Former Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia has moved on. Some board members continue to point to her time even as Jeff Eakins has taken the reins.
  4. Carlton: In-house rivalry, state bears and a Starbucks ban

    Human Interest

    We've seen these interhousehold rivalries before: One spouse is a die-hard Gator, the other bleeds 'Noles garnet and gold. Husband is forever loyal to his Red Sox, while wife cheers only her hometown Rays.

    But this one's political. And involves a politician.

    Republican Hillsborough County Commissioner and former state legislator Victor Crist says he's all in for Jeb Bush for president....

  5. Carlton: Bet you a beer on the return of jai alai

    Economic Development

    Actual scene from a South Tampa restaurant: A man orders a locally brewed Jai Alai beer. Pronounced "high lie," it's a retro-cool name going back to Tampa's rich cultural history and a sport that's like an old-school, lightning-fast game of racquetball, only with a Spanish flair.

    The waiter serves the brew with a flourish. "Here's your jail ale," he says, clearly unfamiliar with all that tradition....

    Could jai alai make a comeback here? Possibly.
  6. Citizens' eyes on police cases could only help

    Public Safety

    We are deep into the long, hot summer that has worried public officials across America.

    We've seen police encounters caught on video and read stories that stretch thin the trust between officers and citizens.

    In Tampa, the mayor and the then-police chief called for a Justice Department review after a Tampa Bay Times investigation that showed eight out of 10 bicycling tickets were being issued to black residents....

    Tampa police Chief Eric Ward will be at Thursday’s Tampa City Council meeting to discuss a potential Citizens Review Board. [SKIP O’ROURKE   |   Times]
  7. Carlton: Florida Man thwarts illegal python barbecue! And other tales

    Human Interest

    Okay, so Florida is weird.

    The Sunshine State routinely provides improbable news — outrageous politics, bizarre characters, stories involving pythons. We are such rich and fertile soil for prolific tweeters and late-night TV snarksters they should pay us a cut.

    This week's front page featured a photo of five people unfurling an 18-foot python found in the Everglades. That's nothing. Two years ago, a 20-foot, 115-pound such snake was brought in as a visitor to the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse. Why, you ask? Why not, we answer. It's Florida....

  8. Carlton: Why cops oppose body cams: The answers might surprise you

    Public Safety

    A campus cop in Cincinnati shoots and kills a motorist he pulled over. He says he was dragged when the man tried to drive away. A fellow officer backs him up.

    But the officer's own body camera tells a different story.

    It shows Officer Ray Tensing lied about being dragged by the car, a prosecutor said this week, and he likely lost his temper when driver Samuel DuBose wouldn't get out of the car. Now, Tensing is charged with murder. And that video is critical evidence in the latest racially tinged and explosive encounter between police and the public....

    Pasco County sheriff’s Deputy Kristina Perez, a field training officer, wears a body camera during a press conference announcing the agency’s move to issue 415 of them to deputies. Pasco began using Taser Axon body-worn cameras in February. [BRENDAN FITTERER   |   Times]
  9. Carlton: Make MOSI move happen


    Say that your once-sleepy downtown is on the verge of something that could be epic.

    Say that how downtown might one day look — bustling with workers and residents and cool things to do, with a thriving medical school and a big science museum — depends, at least in part, on a certain benevolent citizen from up north.

    (Benevolent and rich. That he appears to love living here is just gravy.)...

  10. Court for girls? It's a start


    In a low-ceilinged courtroom crowded with juveniles charged with crimes, an improbable scene played out this week.

    A teenage girl stood before a judge as the entire courtroom applauded her — prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, even other teenagers slouched on benches awaiting their own cases.

    And on this first day of Girls Court in Hillsborough County, it happened more than once....

  11. Carlton: Keeping kids out of jail blues


    The children are brought into court in detention uniforms, blue shirts and khakis, distinguishing them from grownup inmates in baggy bright orange filling other courtrooms not far away.

    Most are teenagers, though they have been as young as 8, as young as 6. Some come transported in chains and then unshackled for court. And some days, this must feel like the most hopeless place in the Hillsborough County Courthouse....

  12. Sue Carlton: Florida has enough lawyers, thank you


    This is not the opening to a snarky lawyer joke, I swear. But does anyone think Florida needs more of them?

    Friday, the governing board of the Florida Bar preliminarily takes up the idea of allowing lawyers from other states to practice in ours without taking that all-important Florida Bar exam.

    Lawyers from elsewhere who want to work here — balmy beaches, anyone? A little Disney for the kids, perhaps? — would need to have practiced law for five of the past seven years. They cannot have, you know, set up enemy lawyers for DUI arrests or anything like that. Maybe they'll have to show knowledge of certain specialty areas of our law....

  13. Carlton: A new sheriff — make that police chief — in town

    Public Safety

    There is a small detail you notice about Tampa's new police chief, Eric Ward — beyond the impeccable uniform, no-nonsense eyeglasses and clean-shaven head. (He had hair when he started this job two months ago, he says, a rare quip.) It's a detail beyond his careful, formal way of talking.

    It's the holes in his ears.

    Two in one lobe, one in the other, they are remnants of being a teenager, of growing up in public housing in east Tampa, raised by a single mother after a divorce. He already stood out because of his deeply religious family — piercing his ears, he figured, made him like the other kids....

  14. Carlton: City Council, you're history, plus Publix, probation and puppies


    Here's something you don't often hear about a government function:

    This could be fun.

    Wednesday, current and former Tampa City Council members gather for a 100-year celebration of Old City Hall, though the council itself dates to 1849.

    Former members' names grace notable city spots — Nick Nuccio Parkway, Curtis Hixon Park, Jan Platt Library. Tampa had a council chairman named Richard (Dick?) Cheney, though the swankiest name had to be L. Beecher McSwain....

  15. Carlton: Shameful? You said it, attorney Diaco


    Two years ago, a cowboy of a Tampa lawyer, successful and smooth in his crisp suit, condemned opposing counsel in a contentious case playing out for the cameras.

    But he wasn't complaining about anything that lawyer had done in court that day in the ongoing defamation trial between two overblown radio DJs — Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Todd Schnitt.

    No, the news had just broken that lawyer C. Philip Campbell was arrested for DUI mid trial. So opposing attorney Stephen Diaco rose up righteous for reporters....

    Stephen Diaco had offered to resign for five years over the DUI setup case, but the court declined.