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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: At last, a downtown outdoor market in Tampa that could just work


    If like me you think cool amenities like an outdoor market are important to a downtown's success, here's good news on that previously dismal Tampa front.

    While news on this particular subject is unfailingly sunny over in St. Petersburg, with its lively Saturday Morning Market of just-cored pineapples, fresh-cut sunflowers and maybe a plate of pesto pasta to eat while you check out the booths, Tampa cannot seem to get an outdoor market right. It's moved hither and yon, been held on a disastrous day of the week and, illogically, stopped serving prepared food on which browsers could nosh....

    In St. Petersburg, things are unfailingly sunny with the lively Saturday Morning Market. Across the bay, the Tampa Downtown Partnership recently started up its latest outdoor market in the centrally located Lykes Gaslight Square Park and hopes to succeed.
  2. Carlton: It's hard to say goodbye to a beloved car

    Human Interest

    We all have our quirks. One of mine is that I am car-blind.

    This is not because my parents drove unremarkable sedans. My mother had a sleek Karmann Ghia with a silver good-luck Buddha glued to the dash, and my father drove a series of Volkswagen vans followed by a beastly Chevy Tahoe he liked to call a Taco.

    But while I grew up able to discern an osprey from an eagle at a good distance, I would have trouble telling you the makes, models or colors of the cars of friends and family, vehicles I ride in regularly. This is not all my fault, since new cars seem to be variations on a single shape....

  3. Carlton: The veteran, the gun and the second chance


    Here's a dilemma for you: What do you do in a criminal case when everyone has a different opinion of what should happen next, and it's hard to tell who's wrong?

    The Times' Tony Marrero reported this week on the complex tale of 30-year-old Clay Allred ( Told he could not use the bathroom at a Tampa Mobil station one night last year, he urinated while he stood in the store, told the Muslim clerk "I don't like you people," and as he drove off, fired a Glock in the air three times....

    Clay Allred, 30, of New Port Richey, is a former U.S. Army Green Beret trying to get his life back together after his arrest last year. He entered Hillsborough's Veterans Treatment Court, a diversionary program for veterans, and has been undergoing treatment for PTSD and alcoholism. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
  4. Carlton: The NRA's Christmas list and other politics


    The Friday before Thanksgiving, the week that was.

    A spit-out-your-Starbucks headline: That faction on the Hillsborough County School Board that disliked, to put it mildly, their autocratic but effective superintendent won the war. But apparently, no one told them, or they're just crazy-mad with all that newfound power.

    Back in January, they got just enough votes to give MaryEllen Elia the boot. (Elia's consolation prize: to become no less than the New York state education commissioner.)...

  5. Carlton: Does a church belong in our public schools?


    In our public schools, are we blurring the line that's supposed to separate church and state?

    The Times' Marlene Sokol reported this week on a "partnership" between Hillsborough County schools and the powerful Idlewild Baptist Church.

    The conservative mega-church, which sits on 143 acres in the Lutz suburbs, has gotten tied in with the school system over the years, volunteering and lately organizing nonreligious speakers for monthly events. Church members give out T-shirts with the Idlewild logo that some teachers wear....

    Pastor Ken Whitten of Idlewild Baptist Church talks to  Hillsborough County school principals and assistant principals at a training session in October. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] 
  6. Stats shouldn't rule cops on the streets

    Public Safety

    Once upon a time a city police chief had what seemed a sensible idea for making sure all his officers were busy with police work and not, say, napping in their cruisers.

    The concept was similar to how corporate America judged its worker productivity, except with a distinct cop spin: Tampa police officers would be measured on everything from how long they spent helping the public to how proactively they responded to crime....

  7. Carlton: Your underpaid Legislature, a Gator smackdown, packing at the park: The week that was


    For a fall Friday, the week that was.

    Some spit-out-your-Starbucks headlines: With a straight face, someone is advocating that your Florida lawmakers, who cannot seem to finish the job we pay them to do and have really bad ideas like letting people walk around packing pistols at their hips, get a $20,000 raise, please.

    A bill from state Sen. Arthenia Joyner would mean a fat 68 percent hike even as the rest of Florida is still regrouping from a wrecking ball economy. Should it pass — not likely, you say, except think fox and henhouse — Florida lawmakers would be the best paid in the South....

  8. Carlton: A commissioner's wild ride on Hillsborough County's transportation future


    When it comes to the future of getting around in Hillsborough County, where in the world is Al Higginbotham?

    He and fellow county commissioners are readying for a critical vote on whether citizens get to decide for themselves on a half-cent sales tax for road, bus and transit improvements. Whether the issue makes it onto next year's ballot will likely be decided by a razor-thin margin in December....

    Commissioner Al Higginbotham has altered his support of transit options. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times] 
  9. Carlton: Get real on Florida's untested rape kits

    Public Safety

    The headlines this week sparked understandable alarm: Across Florida, more than 10,000 rape kits sit untested on shelves and in evidence rooms.


    An injustice.

    Though the truth — and possible solutions — are more nuanced.

    As anyone who's watched an episode of CSI or Law and Order SVU knows, rape kits are used to collect and preserve physical evidence from victims of sexual assault. That evidence — in particular, DNA — can be used to connect or exclude a suspect. For a jury, it can be the deciding factor in a guilty verdict. And evidence from one rape kit can be checked against other crimes....

  10. Carlton: Crucial transportation plan could use a driver


    A badly needed plan to fund transportation for Hillsborough County's future should by all rights live or die on its own merits.

    Voters should get to decide if they're willing to pay a sales tax for road improvements, bus service and transit options. Maybe they buy into the tea party's dark mutterings about boondoggles, or maybe they look at how cities across America are light years ahead and say: Okay, time to get this done....

  11. Bernard the barber: Musician, downtown character and friend, gone

    Human Interest

    Technically, it is a hair-and-nail salon, tucked into the base of a downtown Tampa skyscraper next to a busy bagel joint. But it has the feel of a small-town barbershop in the best sense of such places.

    Everyone seems to know everyone — lawyers, bankers and politicians who shoot the breeze while the scissors are busy. In one corner is a picture of the shop owner walking down a nearby street arm-in-arm with a man you can tell even from behind is the late George Steinbrenner, who owned the New York Yankees. This place has that feel....

    Bernard R. Koener was known as a barber and musician.
  12. When drivers take lives, disparate sentences run from prison to probation

    Public Safety

    Hank Tippins was a law-abiding engineer. Two years ago, at the age of 29, he stood before a Tampa judge facing up to 47 years in prison.

    Also in the courtroom were the family and friends of a mother and breast cancer survivor named Linda Fessell. She was killed when Tippins hit her car while driving drunk. Then, he fled the scene.

    In the middle of all this was a judge with a tough decision to make....

    Viola Flores, 51, was vacationing in Clearwater Beach when she and John Berg, 62,  were fatally struck by a Mercedes on Oct. 18 on the Memorial Causeway in Clearwater.
[Photo from Facebook]
  13. Carlton: Florida fall, politics and guns: Reasons for optimism


    This crisp fall weather — Florida's version, which melts away after breakfast — can make a person downright optimistic about how things turn out.

    Take the recent, resounding "no" to a plan to sell off our state in a creative new way: by allowing lawyers from elsewhere to practice here without taking the Florida Bar exam.

    With Florida already flooded with 103,000 lawyers trying to make a living, we needed this why, exactly? And what's lofty Latin legalese for a bad idea whose time did not come?...

  14. Police find, seize Mercedes suspected in Clearwater hit-and-run that left two dead


    CLEARWATER — The search for a 2002 Mercedes G500 sport utility vehicle that police believe struck and killed two tourists as they walked across the Clearwater Memorial Causeway on Sunday ended on the other side of the bay.

    Detectives started staking out 10922 Lynn Lake Circle in northwestern Hillsborough County on Tuesday afternoon. Inside the garage sat the same kind of Mercedes police were looking for....

    A video image shows a vehicle of interest in the crash that killed two on the Memorial Causeway.
  15. Carlton: Police review panel needs everyday people, too

    Public Safety

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn picked a Coke commercial of citizens to serve on a panel that will be an extra eye on police cases at an important time for his city.

    After a lot of squabbling over the makeup of the 11-member Citizens Review Board, the mayor's five picks (plus two alternates) include a past NAACP president, a retired appeals court judge and a former prosecutor with a big South Tampa name. They are black, white and Hispanic, men and women, from neighborhoods across the city....

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s picks for a Citizens Review Board “are connected more in a political way than the grass roots, ordinary citizens,” Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick says.  [SKIP O’ROURKE  |   Times]