- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls today rejected Al Gore's request for a manual recount of thousands of contested ballots in Florida's presidential election, and refused the vice president's request to overturn George W. Bush's certified statewide victory.

The vice president "failed to carry the requisite burden of proof" in the unprecedented legal challenge to Mr. Bush's 537-vote certified victory, Judge Sauls said in a ruling that Mr. Gore's lawyers appealed even before the crowd cleared from his courtroom.

"They won. We lost. We're appealing," said attorney David Boies, who represents the vice president.

"A lawyer is always happy when he wins," exulted attorney Barry Richard, who represented Mr. Bush in Sauls' courtroom.

The ruling was a major turning point in the nation's election drama, and capped a day of suspenseful legal developments that ranged from the U.S. Supreme Court to the Florida Supreme Court, to the trial court where the jurist with the southern drawl presided over a hurry-up trial.

Reading aloud to a packed courtroom and nationwide television audience, Judge Sauls came down on Mr. Bush's side of the case on point after point.

He said county canvassing boards in Palm Beach Miami-Dade and Nassau Counties had all acted within their discretion in the way they handled vote tabulations.

He said there was "no authority under Florida law" for certifying an incomplete manual recount" or for submitting returns after a deadline fixed by the state Supreme Court, a vindication of the actions of Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who certified Mr. Bush the winner.

And he said that while the record shows "voter error and/or less than total accuracy in regard" to the results in Palm Beach and Miami counties, these problems "cannot support or affect any recounting."

Mr. Gore asked for a ruling overturning Bush's certified 537-vote victory in Florida, and to order a manual recount of an estimated 14,000 ballots in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties. The vice president's legal team also sought to change the official vote certification in Nassau County, although only 51 votes were involved there.

The Bush team argued there was no reason for the recount, and said the Texas' governor had been certified properly by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, on the basis of tallies submitted by the canvassing boards in all 67 Florida counties.

As important as his ruling was, the safest prediction was that Judge Sauls would not have the final word. Not only was the Gore side appealing to an interim appeals court and up to the State Supreme Court, but there was also the prospect of additional maneuvering, based on the ruling the U.S. Supreme Court issued earlier in the day.

The justices vacated an earlier state Supreme Court ruling that allowed partial manual recounts to go forward — to Mr. Gore's benefit — and asked the state judges to explain more clearly the basis for their decision. The state Supreme Court quickly indicated it would comply.

The ruling by Judge Sauls followed a weekend trail that stretched out for more than 20 hours over two days, including testimony from 15 witnesses and arguments by numerous lawyers.

Mr. Boies had argued Sunday that he believed "the law is clear" that hand recounts must begin in key areas where the Democrats believe hundreds of legitimate Gore votes were missed.

"In a close election, a manual recount is the only way to be sure how certain contested ballots should be counted," said Mr. Boies, who represented the U.S. government in seeking the breakup of Microsoft Corp.

He urged Judge Sauls to ensure that 14,000 disputed ballots in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties are counted.

Mr. Richard, the lawyer representing Mr. Bush, said the Gore team was "light years away" from proving the kind of electoral errors the law requires before a judge can order a courthouse count.

"Voter confusion, voter mistakes, is not enough," he said. "The voter has some obligation to do it right," he said.

Joseph Klock, a lawyer for Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who certified the vote a week ago in Mr. Bush's favor, said the legislature never wanted "one lone circuit court judge in Tallahassee to look through all of the ballots" and choose the next president.

Democrats were racing against a Dec. 12 deadline for certifying Florida electors, and Gore lawyer Dexter Douglass said at the time of the filing, "This case will be determinative in all probability of the election."

Mr. Gore wanted the court to examine ballots and order recounts in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and to add a recounted total in Nassau County that would give Gore 52 more votes. In that case, the county reverted to reporting its initial postelection total instead of a machine recount because some 200 ballots were inadvertently left out of the recount.

Just as the trial began Saturday, Mr. Bush's legal team went on the offensive, filing papers demanding that any recount ordered by Judge Sauls be expanded to include all votes cast in two counties where the vice president benefitted from recanvasses performed in the days shortly after the election.

The complaint alleged that political bias had infected hand recounts in Volusia and Broward counties. Mr. Gore, who requested the recounts, gained more than 600 votes in Broward's recount, and 98 votes in Volusia.

The GOP filing also effectively sought to bypass a lawsuit challenging the certified vote in Republican-leaning Seminole County by asking Judge Sauls to certify totals reported there as "legal and proper."

Even before Sauls' ruling, the case had produced a lasting image for the public spectacle the election had become.

Just as the nation had once watched O.J. Simpson's slow-speed Bronco ride, it was able to observe the freeway odyssey of two truckloads of more than 1 million ballots as they were driven from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties to Tallahassee while Judge Sauls decided what to do with them.

The judge had also ordered the impounding of an additional 1.2 million ballots in Volusia, Broward and Pinellas counties after the Bush campaign claimed there were illegal votes in those counties for Mr. Gore.

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