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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: Horses, kids, politics, and releasing your inner Dudley Do-Right


    One day you're just a rich guy with a really big business-and-beer name.

    The next, people are eyeing you like you're Snidely Whiplash.

    You remember Snidely — that dastardly cartoon villain in the black cape and mustache determined to tie the heroine to the railroad tracks?

    Only we're not talking about Dudley Do-Right's damsel in distress in the real-life version here. We're talking about special needs kids and the horses who help them....

    Volunteer McKenzie Johnson walks Christina Freeman on a horse named Chase this month after winning a second place ribbon. The Bakas Equestrian Center hosts an equestrian skills event for the Special Olympics in Tampa. Since 2001, physically and mentally disabled children have experienced the joy of horse-riding and forged deep connections with the animals at Bakas Equestrian Center. Parents say the time with horses gives their children more confidence and self-esteem and helps them improve their balance and coordination.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Carlton: A rainy day for counting those who don't seem to count (w/video)

    Human Interest

    At first, it looked like the rain might change everything.

    This was Thursday before dawn, when the first shift of more than 300 volunteers in red T-shirts would begin hitting the streets of Hillsborough County to count the people living on them — in alleys and cars, in office doorways under swaths of old cardboard, behind dumpsters and in woods. This was the yearly homeless census, a snapshot in time to help determine the size of the homeless population — and the funding needed to combat it....

    Katie Forest, a Hillsborough Homeless Initiative volunteer, surveys Jason Lowe, 37, who’s been homeless for six months.
  3. Carlton: Ybor City to lose that distinctive, century-old smell of roasting coffee


    The smell is rich, warm, slightly nutty — almost but not quite burned. It's a smell that is as much a part of Ybor City as the roosters that strut with impunity across its historic brick streets, as Ybor as a pressed Cuban and a steamy cup of cafe con leche.

    Some mornings, this particular aroma drifts west into downtown Tampa, warming a city just waking up. If I'm lucky, it wafts over to my neighborhood not far away — the distinctive scent of Naviera coffee beans roasting in the mill as they have in this town for nearly a century....

    Naviera Coffee Mills, which has operated in Ybor City since 1921 and has filled the local air with the aroma of freshly roasted coffee, has outgrown its current home and will be relocating to a larger facility in east Tampa. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Carlton: Please, Publix, give peace (and pastrami) a chance


    Dear Publix,

    Okay, let's get the sappy part out of the way.

    Some of us who grew up with you — walking through your automatic doors into the smell of baking bread, weighing ourselves since kindergarten on those big scales in your lobbies, watching polite bag boys roll our moms' groceries to the car — well, we would sooner bleed Publix green than shop another store....

  5. Carlton: Could salty talk be the final straw for the PTC?


    Let us consider what's been said over the years about Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission. Oh, where to start.

    There are the allegations of the PTC's cozy relationship with the taxi and limo industry it's supposed to regulate.

    Or the fact that the PTC is the only such standalone agency in a state in which other local governments seem to handle the same duties without all the vitriol....

  6. Carlton: Will new state attorney give DUI drivers a big break?


    The question — posed to just-elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in a room full of lawyers not yet sure what to make of the new guy — was a good one.

    In courts across Florida, certain first-time offenders get the chance to avoid trials — and more importantly criminal records — for less serious offenses. Would the new state attorney consider starting such a diversion program for people charged with DUI?...

  7. Carlton: Conservative commissioner hopes to vanish without a trace


    Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham will probably not miss me.

    Okay, maybe it's the overall attention he won't miss. He is by his own description a shy and quiet man — but also an elected official, which means having your votes scrutinized and on occasion thrown back at you.

    A Republican voice on the board since 2006, Higginbotham surprised not a few people with the recent announcement that he does not plan to run again when his term is up in 2018. Sam Rashid, a powerful east county political activist, said Higginbotham "was told he could not run for re-election" after he displeased conservative loyal supporters....

  8. Carlton: Standing your ground? Prove it


    For those already not enamored with a "stand your ground" law that makes it easier for people in Florida to shoot and kill with impunity, get ready:

    Lawmakers might be about to make it worse.

    Anyone familiar with the name George Zimmerman knows our controversial law says you can use deadly force with no obligation to back down or flee if you feel threatened. Critics say stand your ground has the potential to cheapen human life, and a Tampa Bay Times investigation found the law has been applied unevenly across the state....

  9. Carlton: Janet Reno, bona fide Floridian

    Human Interest

    As a prosecutor just out of law school, Lyann Goudie found herself invited to the boss' house for a party.

    Hers was no ordinary boss.

    Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno was 6-foot-1, Harvard Law, fiercely smart, a little intimidating.

    The party was at her home at the edge of the Everglades. Reno's employees' kids ran everywhere. Hot dogs grilled and peacocks roamed free. There on the porch sat Reno's mother, challenging guests to a game of cards. And there was Reno, the boss, in a long, loose, comfortable dress....

    Janet Reno once said, “I’m not fancy. I’m what I appear to be.” [BILL COOKE | Special to the Times]
  10. Carlton: A mayor, a ferry and a swarm of bees

    Public Safety

    Notes from the boat and other news of the week:

    Tongues were wagging as assorted elected officials and local leaders made the first ceremonial trip on the Cross-Bay Ferry this week.

    The subject of the chatter: the presence of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, or lack thereof.

    Buckhorn was on hand on land in Tampa to greet the ferry as it arrived on its inaugural jaunt from St. Petersburg with that city's Mayor Rick Kriseman aboard. Another batch of notables waited on the Tampa dock as the boat readied for the journey back, Buckhorn among them....

    The Cross-Bay ferry leaves downtown St. Petersburg on its debut journey across Tampa Bay last week.
  11. Carlton: Say it ain't so: Even a judicial election gets ugly


    On a pretty fall afternoon last Sunday, the good citizens of Hills­borough County stopped by the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa to cast their early votes.

    Outside, campaign supporters waved signs. Birds sang and children played. The scene was practically Rockwellian.

    Until things got "loud," "out of hand" and "ugly" — in the words of the poll worker who called 911.

    And all of this was related to a race between two people running not in that bloodbath of a campaign for president, but to be a local judge....

    Tampa lawyers Gary Dolgin and Melissa "Missy" Polo are vying for a circuit court seat. [Times files]
  12. Carlton: The big boat across the bay is only the beginning


    One morning this week, I sailed to work.

    Okay, that's an exaggeration. I ferried from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa on the inaugural voyage of the biggest no-brainer ever to hit two cities separated only by bridges: the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project.

    And once I got off that boat, it was downhill, transportationwise. Which is pretty much how we do progress on transit in these parts, in fits and starts....

    The Provincetown IV ferry, docked at the Tampa Convention Center, took its first voyage from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa on Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  13. Carlton: In politics are we cynical, or just confused?


    Maybe those glossy fliers piling up in your mailbox as Election Day looms should come with a cautionary note:

    Warning: This is a political ad and therefore might be a little loose on that whole Truth in Advertising thing. Govern yourself accordingly.

    That cynicism is earned. Just this week in a Florida Senate race, a lawyer asked local TV stations to quit running an ad from a Republican committee supporting candidate Dana Young because of a little problem with, you know, the actual facts alleged about her opponent, Democrat Bob Buesing....

  14. Carlton: Tampa does Democrats, but how about architects?


    Hard to say what's most surprising about Mickey Jacob's name being added to the list of rumored contenders to replace Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn when he term-limits out in three years. (A departure that, by the way, may require a SWAT team, given Buckhorn's fondness for the job.)

    So is it most surprising that:

    1. Jacob is very much not-from-here — an immigrant, as he likes to say, Canada-born and naturalized 16 years ago?...

    Mickey Jacob
  15. Carlton: Even in a political world gone mad, truth in ads matters


    We are busy with our actual lives, busy with work, kids and whether we remembered to buy dog food. What's more, we are battered to numbness by this particularly bruising political season, and so maybe we do not notice when shaded truths and outright distortions land in our mailboxes as Election Day looms.

    Which, the cynical would say, is what some people bank on.

    Republican State House Majority Leader Dana Young is squaring off against Tampa lawyer and Democrat Bob Buesing for an open Florida Senate seat — with strip club owner Joe Redner and Air Force reservist Sheldon Upthegrove running as no-party candidates. It's a close race that deserves a fair fight....

    This mailer from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee targets Bob Buesing, a Democrat running in state Senate District 18. [Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee photo]