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Florida Supreme Court Spokesman Says Court Will Consider Butterfly Ballot Lawsuit

Aired November 27, 2000 - 2:33 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to a spokesmen for the Florida Supreme Court, who has a statement about a West Palm Beach lawsuit.


CRAIG WATERS, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT SPOKESMAN: ... for a decision as to why whether or not the court will now accept and hear it.

As I've told you before when we've had these, it is certified under a provision of the state constitution allowing a district court to pass through matters that are of great public importance requiring immediate resolution by the Supreme Court of Florida.

This issue is before the court now. The court must first determine whether it will accept the case. If it does so, it then will establish a briefing schedule and determine whether or not, and when, oral argument would be held.

Are there any questions?

QUESTION: How quickly do you that the determination will be made as to whether they will accept the case?

CRAIG WATERS: Right. Once again, the language in the Constitution is that this is a question requiring immediate resolution by the court. The court takes the word "immediate" very seriously. These cases are always expedited. So you can expect that the court will consider this as quickly as possible.


CRAIG WATERS: Well, I will keep you posted as to whether or not today something will come up. If you see me walk out here again, you'll know that something is happening.

I will tell you this, there's one complication this week that we did not have before, in that the court does have a regular oral argument calendar starting tomorrow. We will be meeting at 9 a.m. to hear the regular calendar of cases, at 9 a.m. each day, except Friday, which will be 8:30 a.m. So the court will of course be sitting to hear these cases, and that adds a little more workload than we had in the prior matters. And, again, tomorrow you will see a lot of people going in and out of the courtroom here, but that will be about these regularly scheduled cases, not necessarily about the presidential election case.

QUESTION: Are all seven justices here today?

CRAIG WATERS: I believe all seven justices are here, but I'm not absolutely sure of that.

CRAIG WATERS: I've been, again, answering the phone quite a bit.


CRAIG WATERS: It takes a minimum of five justices to participate for the court to take any official business. Of course, as a general rule, all seven participate, and a minimum of four justices must agree on any decision before there can be an official action by the court.


CRAIG WATERS: The 4th District Court of Appeals is based in Palm Beach County.

Any further questions?


CRAIG WATERS: We received it about an hour ago, and I can tell you it's already on our web sites. If you want to take a look at it, we posted that before I came out here.

And once again, I know a lot of people have had trouble getting into our web sites because of the traffic. We have not crashed, but we are having tremendous traffic. And our e-mail servers also. I've had a number of complaints from people that they're sending e-mail to the court and it's being bounced back. The reason for that is there's simply so much traffic that not everybody can get through at the same time.

QUESTION: If you received it an hour ago, have the justices actually laid eyes on it yet?

CRAIG WATERS: Yes, the justices have. They are considering the matter as we speak.

QUESTION: When you say they're considering it, have they actually convened together in a room or are they individually looking at the petitions separately?

CRAIG WATERS: I don't know whether they are meeting formally or doing it separately. As I've told you many times before, they do it many ways. And staff such as I are never privy to what goes on in those meetings or how they are conducted. So I simply don't know how they are meeting about this matter right now.

QUESTION: Do you have copies inside? CRAIG WATERS: We will have copies of this document available in about 20 minutes. And, again, we'll follow the same procedures that we followed in the past for distributing copies, paper copies, to those who want them.

Any further questions?

QUESTION: Could you summarize what was filed, exactly? I mean, can you...

CRAIG WATERS: All that was filed -- this is the document right here. It's a very brief document. And all it is is something from the 4th District saying we certify this as a case of great public importance requiring immediate resolution by the Supreme Court of Florida.

That's a routine filing. It is what creates this court's authority to actually hear the case, if it chooses to do so.

Any further questions?

Thank you all and have a nice day.

WATERS: All right, that's Craig Waters. He is the public information officer for the Florida Supreme Court.

You've heard what Mark Potter, our correspondent in West Palm Beach told us about just a short while ago, that a matter to be taken up by the 4th District Court in West Palm Beach was passed through, as they say, to the Florida Supreme Court. It has to do with the butterfly ballot in West Palm Beach and whether or not that butterfly ballot constitutes a confusion that will require a revote.

The judge in West Palm Beach said he didn't have the power to order any revote, but the Supreme Court is deciding now whether to take on the case. Stamped on the pass-through order: "immediate attention required by the Florida Supreme Court to a matter of great importance." It was received about an hour ago, that document from the 4th District down in West Palm Beach. You can find it on the Florida Supreme Court's Web site, but as you heard Mr. Waters say, that Web site is pretty well jammed up with people wanting to get through.

Let's call upon our election law analyst, David Cardwell, now, as long as we're so deeply mired in all these legal briefs and this blizzard, this multi-track blizzard that's going on in Florida.

Let's take care of this West Palm Beach thing since it's the most recent here, David. What's happening here in the Florida Supreme Court?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, what's going on now is that the circuit court in Palm Beach County ruled that the court did not have the authority to order a revote in the case of a presidential election. It's still a question whether it could be a revote if it had been a county or a state election. But they felt, the court felt, it could not in the case a presidential election.

That decision was appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal, which is our intermediate appellate court, which also sets in West Palm Beach. That court then elected to certify the question to the Florida Supreme Court. We have a process -- in fact, it was used just a few days ago, when, if you'll recall, Judge Lewis here in Tallahassee had rendered a decision that then it went to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The 1st District certified it immediately up to the Florida Supreme Court, and that was the case that resulted in the extension of the time of the manual recount.

And so what's happened here is the Florida Supreme Court has received the case from the 4th District. It's now in the discretion of the Florida Supreme Court to decide if they agree with the 4th District that it's a matter of great public importance that requires the Florida Supreme Court. If they disagree, they can send it back down to the 4th. Or if they agree, they can keep the case, set a schedule for oral argument and for briefs to be filed and make a decision.

WATERS: If they do agree to take it on, David, what would be the argument for ordering a revote? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

CARDWELL: We've had that argument raised in some elections that were contested at the local level. The grounds usually alleged are that the situation was so egregious that the only way to remedy the situation is to have a revote. But no court in recent memory of anyone has ever actually ordered a revote.

It's gotten close several times, and the Supreme Court just two years ago said that a revote could be a remedy that a court could order. But we've never had a revote in one county in a statewide race and certainly not for the election of the president of the United States.

WATERS: Now, we have the contest going on in Tallahassee. This is something those of us who are younger than 125 years old have not seen before. Can you give us a sense of what this contest is all about? As I understand it, this is a situation where witnesses can be called and evidence produced. Is that correct?

CARDWELL: That's correct. The first thing that has to be done when you file a contest is to make sufficient allegations to show that what you're complaining about affects the outcome of the election. In reading the pleading just on its face, it's done that. They very carefully in their complaint set forth the number of votes they thought in each county were at issue and that should have gone to the Gore-Lieberman ticket instead of to the Bush-Cheney ticket or have not been counted at all.

Those number of votes exceed the 537 vote margin that we have now under the certified totals. As a result, they've been able to get to the point with the court that they can now say we can submit evidence.

They have in their motions asked that all the ballots from Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade County and Nassau County be impounded, be brought to Tallahassee and be put in the control of the circuit court here in Tallahassee.

WATERS: What is considered evidence?

CARDWELL: Well, it could be the ballots themselves, it could be affidavits of voters or elections officials. It could be, as was even cited in their complaint, news media reports of certain events that occurred. They very well may also want to use videotape from the surveillance cameras that were watching over the Palm Beach County canvassing board.

So there's a variety of different things. They could call the election officials, members of the canvassing board, as witnesses before the court.

WATERS: Can you imagine a state court deciding a presidential election?

CARDWELL: Well, I can't believe it, but it seems to be about to happen.

WATERS: Well, there are many people saying...

CARDWELL: Or it...

WATERS: There are many people saying what's happening in the state courts in Florida is more significant than what's going on in the United States Supreme Court.

CARDWELL: Well, I'm sure whatever happens in the state court here may eventually get up to the U.S. Supreme Court. We still remain to be seen if the Supreme Court actually after Friday does jump into this and render a decision. It's still possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could say even after hearing oral argument, we think that it's moot. We don't need to rule on this question now, and it may be that one of these other cases may be the one that gets to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final determination.

WATERS: I know you deal with the law, but do you think Gore has a shot here or is it a long shot if any shot at all?

CARDWELL: If you'd asked me on November 7th, I would have said that a lot of these things would not have happened. But now, I think that just about anything's possible.

WATERS: David Cardwell at his post in Tallahassee.

We'll be calling upon you again, David. Thanks so much.

CARDWELL: Thank you.



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