- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A Florida judge yesterday rejected Al Gore's demand for immediate access to a promising batch of ballots, while the Florida Legislature moved closer toward asserting itself in defense of George W. Bush.

It was a double dose of bad news for the vice president on the second day of his lawsuit contesting the outcome of Florida's election. While Mr. Gore remained in Washington to plead his case directly to the people through a series of TV interviews, his lawyers on the ground here lost another precious day in their race against the clock.

Florida's House speaker meanwhile said he is convinced the Republican-led Legislature needs to go into special session as early as next week to name its own slate of presidential electors.

"I don't believe there's an option at this point, and I'm prepared to go," said Tom Feeney, who shares the power with Senate President John McKay to call a special session. "I'm standing on the playing field ready to put my helmet on."

But the most significant setback came from Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, who dismissed the Gore team's call for immediate access to 3,300 disputed ballots from Palm Beach County and 10,000 from Miami-Dade County.

Siding with Bush lawyers, Judge Sauls ruled that if these 13,300 ballots are to be shipped to his court in Tallahassee, so must a million undisputed ballots, a decision that further delays the proceedings.

"We want the Florida Supreme Court to rule that the counting begin immediately," Gore lawyer Jeremy Bash told The Washington Times after the hearing. "The lower court won't even set a date for beginning the counting process."

Mr. Bash said the Gore team would file appeals last night with the Florida Supreme Court and a state appeals court. These appeals take issue not just with yesterday's ruling, but also with the judge's decision Tuesday to reject Mr. Gore's call for an immediate recount.

By convincing the judge to summon all ballots not just the subset most promising to Mr. Gore to Tallahassee, Bush lawyers sought to establish a precedent that might eat up more time later.

If and when Gore lawyers prevail in their call for another recount, the Bush team would argue that all ballots must be counted.

The object is to prevent Mr. Gore from completing his lawsuit and any resulting recount that might give him an unofficial lead over Mr. Bush by Dec. 12, the day when Florida's 25 electors must be in place. With less than two weeks remaining, the Gore team is becoming increasingly frustrated by what it sees as the painfully slow wheels of justice.

"In normal circumstances, the order that this court is proceeding on would be very fast indeed," Gore lawyer David Boies told Judge Sauls. "But this is not a normal circumstance, and we believe that the counting has got to start right away."

Mr. Boies objected to demands by the Bush team that all ballots be considered or none at all. He pleaded in vain for the judge to allow Palm Beach and Miami-Dade to send the 13,300 disputed ballots immediately, even if that meant sending the remaining ballots in a separate convoy later.

"They can send up the ballots that are contested right now," Mr. Boies said. "We can't think of any need to hold up our ballots, the contested ballots, which are a few thousand in each case, for the hundreds of thousands of other ballots."

He added: "If all they were going to do is send the ballots we've asked for, they could have them up here [today] or Friday morning. It is these other ballots that is delaying things."

But Bush lawyers cast new doubts on the integrity of ballots in Miami-Dade, saying workers mishandled them yesterday.

"County employees were actually going through undervotes, what the machine spit out as a nonvote, and doing their own little manual recount," Bush lawyer Phil Beck told the judge. "And if they thought it was a clear vote, even though the machine said no, they'd put it in a separate envelope that said, 'clear vote.'

"And we asked them to stop it, and they said no," he said. "We should not have county employees, who are now doing a manual recount, and segregating what the machine said is a nonvote into two different categories. They ought to put them back in the same category."

He added: "Otherwise, I'm concerned, Your Honor, that we're going to have a hopeless mishmash where nobody's going to be able to figure out what the canvassing board even thought about these ballots."

Judge Sauls agreed with the Bush team and suggested the employees in question might end up being subpoenaed to appear at the trial, which is set for Saturday.

"Can you pack up a few of the employees and ship them up here, too?" Judge Sauls asked the Miami-Dade elections supervisor, who appeared in court via speakerphone. "Maybe the supervisor needs to be on notice that some of his employees may be subpoenaed so they won't be taken by surprise if the sheriff has to show up at the last minute."

In the end, the judge sided with the Bush team, delaying the shipment of any ballots from the two counties until all ballots could be packed and loaded into vehicles, which would not arrive in Tallahassee until at least late tomorrow.

"It seems to me, that that's putting an undue burden on them to make them run two convoys up here with those ballots," said Judge Sauls.

"Your Honor, we are, of course, paying for the expense," Mr. Boies protested. "Since they're prepared to bring it up and we're paying for the expense, it seems to me that there's no legitimate reason not to have them come up."

"I'm going to leave it to them," Judge Sauls said, gesturing to the telephone voice box to signify election officials from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. "What do you all want to do down there? Do you want to send up two times or do you want to do it once? It's your call."

"One time, from Miami," said Miami-Dade election official Murray Greenberg.

"One time it is," the judge concluded. "All right, that's it one time."

The judge also refused to sign a document that would have made it easier for the Gore team to appeal his ruling to the Florida Supreme Court.

Judge Saul's courtroom was not the only Tallahassee venue in which the Gore team faced difficulty yesterday.

For the second day in a row, a special committee of the Republican-dominated Florida legislature met to discuss the possibility of directly appointing electors for Mr. Bush in the event that a court orders the appointment of Gore electors instead.

The Gore team bused 70 Democrats from South Florida to yesterday's hearing yesterday in order to protest such a move by the legislature. Mr. Gore himself joined in the rhetorical war against such a move.

"I can't believe that the people of Florida want to see the expression of their will taken away by politicians," Mr. Gore told CNN. "I think you'd see quite a negative response to it."

In order to spare Florida Gov. Jeb Bush the potential discomfort of signing a bill that would essentially make his brother the president, lawmakers mulled passing such a bill and then letting it stand without the signature for seven days, automatically becoming law.

"It's appropriate to have these hearings that's the thoughtful way to go about this," the Florida governor said yesterday. "If there's indecision about who the electors are by Dec. 12, I think it would be a travesty not to have electors seated."

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