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Special Event

Florida Supreme Court Spokesman Holds News Conference on Timetable for Manual Recounts Ruling

Aired November 21, 2000 - 11:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're keeping our eye right now on things in Florida. We want to show you now a live picture that we're getting from the steps of the Florida Supreme Court. We expect there to be an announcement coming from this point any minute now. We have no idea what this announcement's going to be.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Also, Buffalo, New York just got slammed with inches and inches of snow. You stood up and you said...

HARRIS: Feet.

PHILLIPS: Feet, excuse me. I should say feet.

HARRIS: Feet of snow.

PHILLIPS: Leon said, that's about right here on me.

HARRIS: Yes.

PHILLIPS: We're going to be talking to people there and what they've been dealing with. Luckily no injuries and no deaths reported. Just a big hassle for folks.

HARRIS: Yes, we'll get that to you in just a moment. For now, let's go to Bill Hemmer standing by down in Tallahassee -- Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Leon, Kyra, good morning again. Wish somebody could keep my seat warm here. Got some chilly temperatures for a couple weeks. But it's better than Buffalo right now.

Listen, as you mentioned, Craig Waters: We were given an indication just about 15 minutes ago the public information officer for the state supreme court would be coming out to say something. There is a microphone, again, set up, Leon, as you were indicating in front of the state supreme court building here in Tallahassee. What that message could be is quite unclear. And staying away from speculations, we are not indicating that there's a ruling just yet. There may be, but we just don't know.

In addition to that, we're not quite sure what he will offer shortly here in Tallahassee. But we're standing by. Indeed, when Mr. Waters decides to come on out, we'll have it for you. In the meantime, though, let's continue our discussion here and bring in, once again, CNN's Mike Boettcher, sitting here to the right.

And, Mike, let's talk more about the rather interesting element taking place inside the capitol here. The state legislature is being sworn in. We have some videotape that we can show our viewers. Katherine Harris, the secretary of state, coming into the House chamber first, the Senate chamber second, and both times getting a standing ovation, both times she entered the chamber there.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was quite a scene. And if you go to her office as well down on the first floor of the capitol, it's full of flowers.

One thing I picked up in some of the speeches there at the state capitol, made from the podium when they were nominating the leadership, was the fact that Floridians are very aware of the spotlight they're in and they feel, in some cases, their state has been negatively portrayed. And it was a very nonpartisan atmosphere this morning in the legislature when these nominating speeches were being made.

HEMMER: OK, hang on one -- yes, here's Craig Waters now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CRAIG WATERS, SPOKESMAN, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: We are still in the same stage we were yesterday. We have no -- nothing, no schedule, no timetable at the present time as to when anything maybe coming out of the court. Again, I will let you know whenever anything happens, but right now the rumors about 10 o'clock, about 1 o'clock, about 2 o'clock tomorrow, all of those are untrue. We have no timetable at the present time.

QUESTION: Are they deliberating now?

WATERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Are they deliberating now?

WATERS: Well, there are some ceremonial events that have been going on this morning across the street that the justices participate in, so I'm not aware if those justices are back yet.

I can tell you that our staff has been working full-time. I left here late last night and there were many lights on in the lawyers' offices. So the work has been going on continuously. We are putting in an extraordinary effort in this particular case.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

WATERS: Whenever there is an opinion, what we are going to do is, 30 minutes in advance, the marshal will come out and will say that there will be a statement in roughly 30 minutes.

After the 30 minutes have ended, we will simultaneously post the opinion on our web site. We have two duplicate web sites, so keep checking those.

At the same time the opinion is being posted, I will come out and read a prepared statement as to what the bottom line of the opinion is and what the votes are from the justices. I will not be able to take questions at that time. So after the statement is made, I will return into the building. And shortly thereafter we will open the door for people to come in to get paper copies.

But once again, your best bet at getting copies the fastest is on the two duplicate web sites we maintain.

QUESTION: Would you give the names, the URLs, please?

WATERS: The two sites are www.flcourts.org, that's O-R-G; and the second, our duplicate site, is www.firn.edu/supct.

QUESTION: Still hoping to give us a head's up that there will not be an opinion issued on a given day?

WATERS: When the chief justice can tell me that there is no possibility of an opinion being released on any particular day, I will come out and make a statement to that effect. And if we reach the point that it appears that nothing will be possible before the holiday this week, the chief justice is going to let me know so that I can tell you when the court will be back in business, if we reach that point. But, again, there is no timetable at the present time as to when a decision is going to be made. We just don't know.

QUESTION: Will the court be open on Friday?

WATERS: We do not know that at the present time.

QUESTION: How late were you here last night? How late were the justices here before they went home? What time?

WATERS: I'm not aware of how late all of them were here. I stayed here myself till past 9 o'clock, and I'm in a part of the building that's separate from where the justices are, so I did not go passed the offices to see who all were here. I can tell you that I saw a lot of lights on in a lot of offices.

QUESTION: Are some justices here right now?

WATERS: Yes, some justices are here right now.

QUESTION: Are there any other cases, Craig, that the justices are taking any time on other than this?

WATERS: Well, we do have regular oral arguments scheduled for next week, so some of our staff attorneys, of course, are working on those cases. We fortunately have a rather limited calendar for next week, which is beneficial, something that wasn't planned, but is making it easier for us to address these matters.

QUESTION: Will you go over the procedure after the hearing ended last night? Did the justices adjourn to a meeting room and take an initial vote to see where everybody stood?

WATERS: Well, again, I'm not privy to what goes on in the conferences.

WATERS: I can tell you what the usual procedure is. After an argument, the justices will meet in conference and go over their initial impressions about the case. They sometimes will make an initial vote. There is a justice that is assigned to write a majority opinion. Some justices may agree with that, but want to write a separate opinion of their own; some may disagree and decide to write a dissenting opinion.

Typically, they break up and go back and start doing research and start drafting opinions. They sometimes write memoranda and circulate those to other members of the court, just to get feedback on particular issues. Eventually, there will be a majority opinion.

As I've told you before, Florida's Constitution requires that at least four justices must agree before the court can take any action whatsoever. So they have to reach at least that threshold.

Then after the opinion is finalized and any dissenting and concurring opinions are also added, the chief justice will authorize the release at a certain time. And then the procedure that I told you about will kick in.

QUESTION: Is anybody in the conference besides the justices and the court clerk?

WATERS: Only the clerk of court, and he is not always there.

QUESTION: Who wrote the initial opinion on this one? Do you know, who's going to?

WATERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do you know who's going to write the initial opinion on this?

WATERS: We have no way of knowing.

And, again, there are opinions that are issued that are unsigned opinions. There are various reasons why. One example of why there would be an unsigned opinion is because sometimes a justice writes a separate opinion that is so persuasive that the other justices decide to include it in the majority, so you would actually have two authors of that opinion. And by custom, we don't allow one justice to claim the credit for what the other justice has done. So those are issued as per curiam, unsigned opinions.

QUESTION: Are all the justices over at the swearing-in?

WATERS: No, I do not believe all the justices were over. They were the swearing-in of the legislature, of course.

QUESTION: Do you know whether opinions have been drafted by the justices in this case at this point?

WATERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Do we know whether there has been an opinion drafted by any of the justices in this case?

WATERS: No, we do not know.

QUESTION: Are you saying that there is one opinion that is before this conference now? That one opinion has been offered by the...

WATERS: No, what happens at the conference is they simply meet and discuss initial impressions. Then they would usually go back to their offices and begin drafting opinions -- a majority opinion, perhaps a dissenting opinion if someone decides to dissent.

QUESTION: What is the status of conference then? Is the conference still going on?

WATERS: Again, I'm not sure all of the justices are back here yet. Normally, conferences are only held if all the justices are here.

QUESTION: But they began this morning?

WATERS: We do not know. There are many ways they actually meet about cases like this. They sometimes meet informally in their offices. Sometimes they gather in the chief justice's office. Sometimes they simply exchange memoranda. Sometimes they'll talk on our intercom phone lines. So there are many different ways they can actually discuss the issues in the case.

QUESTION: Do you know how long the conference lasted after the oral arguments yesterday?

WATERS: No, I do not know how long the conference lasted yesterday. I was busy answering a lot of questions from you all in the press and that took a considerable amount of time. You can look and see how many reporters there are here. I've been answering all your calls.

QUESTION: Are you allowed to pose that question to the chief justice now?

WATERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Are you allowed to pose that type of question to the chief justice now?

WATERS: What type of question?

QUESTION: How long they met yesterday, where they are in the process, that type of thing?

WATERS: I can ask them that and try and get that for you. QUESTION: What time did they come in today -- the justices?

WATERS: Well, most of them come in early and I know they've been coming in earlier because of this particular case, but I just don't know exactly what time.

QUESTION: Is there a cutoff time tomorrow, since the court closes for the holiday?

WATERS: Well, again, there's no cutoff at the present time, but if the chief justice does tell me that there's no possibility of any action until a certain date, I will come out and let you all know that so that you don't have to stand out here over the Thanksgiving holiday, waiting for something that's not going to come. And I know your all happy about that, but I am too.

I've actually got a family reunion to go to in Alberta, Alabama, and I'd like to be there. I've already RSVP'ed and my Aunt Ethel would be very upset at me if I do not attend.

QUESTION: Thank you, Craig.

HEMMER: All right, Craig Waters here, the public information officer at state supreme court. Really, the information he just gave us helps us to do our job a whole lot better.

BOETTCHER: It helps Aunt Ethel, too.

HEMMER: He's off to Alabama.

Listen, he talked about a couple of things: same stage as yesterday. Extraordinary effort in this case.

I'm sorry, is he back at the podium now? OK, Craig Waters is not back up there. Let's continue with our discussion here.

Rumors are not true, he said, about a decision being reach and no time table given just yet. But, again, the information he provides gives us some insight as to what's happening inside, just a bit.

BOETTCHER: No, it does in that you can figure out how the justices go about doing this. In one sense it can be very informal in chambers with each side or each justice, by seniority, being asked his or her opinion.

HEMMER: Mike, I apologize, I'm being told that we can hear Mr. Waters again.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: You will let us know if the justices choose to spend more time than their 5 o'clock normal going home time? If they're staying to work late, you'll let us know?

WATERS: I will talk with the chief about that.

QUESTION: Craig, effectively, the justices met yesterday in a brief conference, but you don't know what emerged out of that.

WATERS: No, I don't.

QUESTION: And likewise today, they did meet again in conference when they first came in?

WATERS: I don't know that.

QUESTION: And you don't know if anything is written or anything is on the table?

WATERS: No, I don't.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

HEMMER: All right, Craig Waters again, a couple quick Q&As, as we say, on the steps down there at the state supreme court.

Mike, finish your thought. I apologize about the interruption.

BOETTCHER: Well, they can meet in many different forms. Initially, when they went behind the curtain after that two-hour 22- minute hearing yesterday, they met in the more formal chambers. Each justice was allowed to give his or her opinion. Those opinions were offered by rank of seniority. Then they go back to their chambers, they work on their own opinions, they try to build consensuses talking over the phone, through memos. They could even go down to the corner bar if they wanted to over a beer and do this.

HEMMER: Interesting. He talked about them talking on the telephone, too. I thought that was quite telling, conversations that can take place at any point if they want to talk about it.

BOETTCHER: Well, you know, one thing to point out is they didn't begin their deliberations yesterday, they began talking back and forth when they knew this was going to come their direction. So over the weekend they've been thinking about this and in -- we're told by courtroom observers that they've been talking informally. But it's hard to get a sense in a secret court setting like that.

HEMMER: I would say, also, a couple Web sites right now are crashing based on the Internet addresses he gave out.

Let's go quickly to Roger Cossack in Washington.

Roger, jump in here. Your thoughts on what we just heard?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: OK, well, the first thing I want to do, guys, is remember about 15 minutes ago when I told you it seemed like we were going to have a decision in the next 15 minutes?

(LAUGHTER)

HEMMER: Yes you did.

COSSACK: OK, well, forget that. I didn't mean that. I just wanted to make sure everybody was listening.

(LAUGHTER)

I think I'm perhaps a victim of too much knowledge in these situations, or perhaps hoping for too much. Well, it's clear that we're right where we thought we were going to be. They're deliberating. But you know what I find really impressive is -- and I think is really neat...

HEMMER: What's that?

COSSACK: ... is how this Craig Waters comes out and tells you how the process is going on...

HEMMER: Right.

COSSACK: ... tells you how they meet, tells you what they do, tells you how they get together for their first discussion and then they can talk about it various different ways, you know, this lack of secrecy. I'm really impressed with this sort of -- with what they call the sunshine information in Florida.

HEMMER: Yes.

COSSACK: I just think this is a wonderful way to conduct government and a wonderful way to conduct supreme court deliberations.

HEMMER: You know, Roger, I think that may be a legacy out of this, for other state supreme courts across the country to see how it's done, and the fact that so many of us could peer into what's happening inside yesterday by way of television cameras. Ultimately, something like this may proceed -- make take us several years -- to the U.S. Supreme Court as well. Why not let Americans go ahead and peek in on the legal system at really the highest level?

I'm impressed with this sort of what they call the sunshine information in Florida. I just think this wonderful way to conduct government and a wonderful way to conduct supreme court decisions. Bill: may be a legacy out of this. For other supreme court to see how done so many can peer what's happening by way of television cameras ultimately something like this may proceed make take several years so the U.S. Supreme court as well. Why not let Americans pick -- peek in on the legal system at really the highest level?

BOETTCHER: (OFF-MIKE)

COSSACK: You know, I have no answer as to why not. Oh, I'm sorry, Mike. I didn't mean to interrupt you. But I can tell you that I have been a supporter of cameras in the courtroom. And I understand the argument about in the trial courtroom, there's an argument that perhaps it intimidates witnesses or juries. But certainly not in appellate courts like we saw yesterday.

BOETTCHER: You know, it's a very open court. Usually in formal court over there -- they apologized to me when I first went over and said, hey, look, we're not usually this formal. It's not like knocking on the door at Oz trying to get in to see the Wizard. But they apologized for that and said, this is such a big thing and so many reporters, we're a little bit more formal. But they said when this is all over, come in and we'll show you around, give you a cup of coffee. And they really do have an excellent staff over there and they've been very helpful to us.

And one thing, Roger, if I have time for one question...

HEMMER: Please, yes.

BOETTCHER: After the O.J. Simpson trial, there was a lot of criticism of cameras in the courtroom. Do you think this will go a long way in perhaps somehow changing the perception of the public in terms of cameras in the courtroom?

COSSACK: Well, two things, I think, Mike. Certainly I think it should change the perception of cameras in the courtroom for appellate-type arguments. You know, those are the arguments that we saw yesterday. Clearly there's nothing intimidating about a camera in a courtroom. There's no jury to be intimated, there's no witnesses to be intimidated. There's lawyers and judges, and that certainly doesn't have any effect whatsoever.

And the other thing is that perhaps now that we have cameras in the courtroom, this will go -- and the American people were able to see what went on in that courtroom yesterday -- this will go a little ways to perhaps bringing back some of the confidence that maybe the O.J. Simpson cost us in our court system and in our legal system, because I think you had nothing but to be proud of what happened in that federal -- in that Florida Supreme Court yesterday.

HEMMER: That may be the first thing we learn and change about American society out of this, but we shall see.

Roger, thanks again. Roger Cossack in Washington, Mike Boettcher here in Tallahassee.

And one more thing that we did pick up, if they don't have a decision by Turkey Day, Thanksgiving Day two days from now, they're going to come out and let us know. So maybe Aunt Ethel will get Craig Waters eventually after all. We shall see.

BOETTCHER: Relax, Aunt Ethel. He'll be there, I'm sure.

HEMMER: You got it. Keep the pumpkin bread in the oven.

Let's go back to Atlanta now. Here's Leon and Kyra now once again.

PHILLIPS: We should go live from Aunt Ethel's house.

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS: We should.

PHILLIPS: What do you think? HARRIS: Well, Aunt Ethel, if you're watching, maybe we'll see you in a couple of days, huh?

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