- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

Behold the gorillas, hordes, predators, invaders: Florida election lawyers are getting more press coverage than Al Gore and his airbrushed khakis.

In the past 48 hours, journalists have dutifully described the pecking orders, migration patterns, plumage, mating calls and battle cries of the litigators. There are field guides too, distinguishing one species from another.

"All the legal talking heads are back again, the variety that developed during the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson trials," said Rikki Klieman, an anchor at Court TV, which is following the legal spectacle daily.

"But these are also the political variety of legal talking heads the kind that developed during the Monica Lewinsky scandal two years ago," she added.

It has become, Miss Klieman said, a cottage industry among lawyers who vie for camera time and a spot in history. It's a challenge, she said, for journalists charged with "sorting through the mishmash of political strategy and one-upmanship."

Many think the presidency may boil down to a combination of savvy publicity and legal prowess. As the public waits, there's lots to watch, including some juicy acrimony yesterday.

"All we really need is to get the lawyers out of this and let the process work," Gore attorney David Boies said during a quickie appearance on ABC.

"Mr. Boies says that the lawyers ought to get out of it. He arrived yesterday along with another planeload of Gore lawyers," fired back Theodore Olson, an attorney for George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, the legal effort down in Florida takes all kinds, apparently.

Like Southern Florida U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, a figure in the Elian Gonzalez case, now a heavy for the Gore side.

The Associated Press noted yesterday that Mr. Coffey once bought a $900 bottle of champagne at Miami's Lipstik Adult Entertainment Club and capped off his night by biting a topless dancer during a private performance.

"Coffey recovered," AP observed, adding that "things are always strange in Florida."

Miami, Tallahassee and West Palm Beach are the three main arenas for courtroom wrangling that is almost impossible for laymen to track.

"Everybody in this situation has a lawyer. They feel the need for a mouthpiece," said Robert Jarvis, a legal ethics professor at Fort Lauderdale's Nova Southeastern University and author of the 1998 book "Primetime Lawyers."

"But I worry the public thinks that all lawyers are vultures who complicate matters, more interested in being a talking head than upholding due process," Mr. Jarvis continued. "The reality is that these lawyers are part of the culture of our society. Not a lot happens without them."

A parade of attack lawyers may be sound management, too.

"To avoid long-lasting damage to their political reputations, both candidates must stay as far out of the fray as possible," said Mark Newman of Reputation Management, a corporate manners magazine.

Court TV's Miss Klieman a lawyer herself thinks George W. Bush eventually will win the race. And she rejects the idea that the nation is in a constitutional crisis.

"The public will come to understand that though our system is flawed, our country still works. This is a mess, but we'll survive," she said.

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