- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A Florida judge last night rejected Al Gore's emergency request to begin recounting ballots today and largely rebuffed the vice president's plea to dramatically accelerate his lawsuit contesting the election.

Gore lawyers vowed to immediately appeal the ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, who said no ballots will be counted before Saturday.

"We can't wait until Saturday," Gore attorney David Boies told the judge. "We're going to have to appeal that decision, because it is our view that waiting until Saturday is tantamount to denying" the entire lawsuit.

Mr. Gore is racing the clock to overturn Florida's election results before Dec. 12, when federal laws require the selection of Florida's 25 electors.

The vice president himself said in Washington yesterday that the only way to meet that deadline is to immediately commence another recount of thousands of contested ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Gore lawyers in Tallahassee insisted that if the counting of ballots does not begin until after the current lawsuit is settled perhaps next week there will not be enough time to complete the task by Dec. 12.

But Judge Sauls pointed out that the ballots in question have not yet been shipped from southern Florida to his courthouse in Tallahassee.

"I've essentially denied your beginning to count something we don't have right now," he told Mr. Boies.

Bush lawyers warned that it would be improper to recount only some of the ballots from the two counties, as the Gore team has requested. Specifically, the vice president wants a recount of the 3,300 most promising ballots from Palm Beach County and 10,000 from Miami-Dade.

"You cannot look at those votes in isolation," Bush lawyer Daryl Bristow told the judge. "No count could take place other than in the context of a full manual recount."

The Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board has already ruled that it would allow a recount only if that included every ballot in the county, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris on Sunday rejected a partial recount submitted by Palm Beach. By law she could not accept a partial recount.

The prospect of expanding the hand recount from 13,300 selected ballots to all ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties a total of more than 1 million is daunting to the Gore camp, which is increasingly worried about the ticking clock.

Judge Sauls also rejected most of an accelerated schedule that the Gore team proposed for the lawsuit. Mr. Boies wanted the trial to start as early as yesterday and no later than today.

But the judge instead scheduled an "omnibus hearing" for Saturday, when both sides could present evidence and witnesses for as long as they wanted. Still, he cautioned that the case might not be wrapped up until Dec. 7.

"This is the best that I can fashion to at least be unfair to both parties," Judge Sauls said.

Gore lawyers insisted most of the unfairness was directed at them.

"There are ways to expedite this," Mr. Boies said. "And I can't think of a legitimate reason not to begin the counting on Thursday, at least with respect to the Dade County ballots."

This prompted the usually low-key Bush lawyer Barry Richard to angrily denounce the Gore team's increasingly urgent calls for expediency.

"My client is entitled to a hearing before Mr. Boies' client gets relief," he snapped to the judge. "Every time Your Honor gives him another thing, he's back on his feet asking for one more thing that you've already denied him twice.

"We've already truncated this proceeding so that my client has little or no time to prepare for a hearing.

"Mr. Boies [is] asking this court to give him everything he's requested, which is to begin another ballot recount before he has provided one iota of evidence or permitted my client to have one hour of hearing on whether or not he's entitled to that recount."

Judge Sauls acknowledged he had already shortened the normal period of 10 days in which the defendant can reply to the plaintiff.

"I can't strip you of every right that is known to everybody to accommodate" the Gore side, he told the Bush team.

Hours before the ruling, Mr. Gore stepped before cameras and called for an immediate recount of disputed ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, where ballots already have been counted two or three times.

"This morning, we have proposed to the court in Tallahassee a plan to have all the ballots counted in seven days, starting tomorrow morning, and to have the court proceedings fully completed one or two days after that," he said outside his Washington residence. "Once we have that full and accurate count of the ballots cast, then we will know who our next president is and our country can move forward.

"Unfortunately, just about an hour ago, Governor Bush's lawyers rejected this proposal. Instead, they have proposed two weeks of additional court proceedings and additional hearings, right up to the December 12 deadline for seating electors."

"And under their plan, none of the thousands of votes that remain to be counted would be counted at all," he said. "I believe this is a time to count every vote and not to run out the clock. This is not a time for delay, obstruction and procedural roadblocks."

One roadblock in Mr. Gore's path is Judicial Watch, a conservative legal watchdog group that already has first crack at the ballots in Palm Beach County.

Prompted by a ruling by a Palm Beach County Judge who said the ballots shall be available to the public, Judicial Watch chairman Larry Klayman showed up to begin examining the ballots.

It was not clear last night whether Mr. Klayman would have to yield to Gore lawyers who want the ballots brought to Tallahassee. After speaking via telephone to election officials in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade during last night's hearing, Judge Sauls ordered the ballots in question to be trucked to his court by Friday.

The judge emphasized that he had not yet decided whether the ballots will actually be counted. He pointed out that he might end up ordering them sent back uncounted to Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.

Last night's hearing was just one of many legal and political developments that took place in Tallahassee yesterday.

Another Leon County circuit judge denied a request by Bush lawyers to consolidate Mr. Gore's lawsuit with another suit that originated in Seminole County. Democrats there want thousands of absentee ballots thrown out because Republicans helped fill out ballot request forms for the voters.

"Under Florida law, any person can assist the voter in filling out an application for an absentee ballot," Mr. Richard told reporters.

Also yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court continued to mull whether to accept a case filed by Palm Beach County Democrats who say the entire county should revote because the ballot was confusing to would-be Gore voters.

Finally, a committee of the Florida Legislature met yesterday to begin talks on whether to call a special session early next month. The Republican-dominated legislature wants to be prepared to appoint 25 electors on its own in the event the court cases are not resolved by Dec. 12.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide