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Election 2000: Cases Being Heard Today in Leon County

Aired December 6, 2000 - 7:41 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 are continuing to keep our eye, this morning, on Judge Terry Lewis' court there, as we see the activities are just getting underway this morning. We'll get back to our coverage of that, and back to Bill Hemmer, in Tallahassee.

But in the meantime, let's get some more information right now from our reporters who are out there on the scene.

Mark Potter standing by, this morning, in Tallahassee -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Leon.

I want to tell you a little bit about the man who filed his lawsuit that we're seeing pictures of right now being argued before Judge Terry Lewis at the Leon County Courthouse, in Tallahassee. Now, the plaintiff in this case is a man named Ron Taylor. He is an electrical contractor from Stewart, Florida, which is in Martin County, a county just north of Palm Beach county, on the east coast of Florida.

He is a registered Democrat. He says he is an Al Gore supporter, but claims that he is not a party official, has no party affiliations except that he is a registered Democrat. He says that he was not contacted by party officials to file this lawsuit.

We talked, a short while ago, outside the courthouse, and he said he was just angry about what he read in the newspaper, about what was going on at the supervisor of elections office. He thought that was wrong, and he sought out an attorney, John Kennedy, and filed this suit.

Now, I will tell you that last week, when we were investigating this story in Martin County, and travelled to his door (ph), we talked to Democrats there, Democratic Party officials there, one of whom said that they were looking into this, were talking to attorneys, and were seeking a plaintiff around which to build a case.

I asked Mr. Taylor: Were you consulted, did they seek you out?

And he says absolutely not and that he did not talk with Democratic Party officials. So whether those two pieces of information are linked, we cannot say. Ron Taylor says he just did this on his own. So Leon, back to you. HARRIS: Well, Mark, one quick question then: Is Mr. Taylor going to be in the courtroom at any time at all, or is he going to actually participate, or this all just something the lawyers are going to do?

POTTER: No, he's in there. I'm looking at the picture now, and I see lawyers, but I don't see him. But he's clearly there, he walked in this morning with the attorney, John Kennedy, so he's there.

Now, the other plaintiff in the other case -- we've seen a lot of pictures of Harry Jacobs -- he is an attorney, he's from Seminole county, and is a Democrat -- was more actively involved in party affairs than Ron Taylor says he is.

Harry Jacobs was a volunteer vote count observer for the Democratic Party after this last election, and in his lawsuit, he claims that he overheard talk in the supervisor of elections office in Seminole county in the community of Sanford that Republicans had been allowed to come in and change the numbers on the absentee ballot application -- not change, add the numbers on the absentee ballot applications -- and he overheard a conversation about that, began investigating that, got angry, and filed a lawsuit, and is represented by an attorney, Gerald Richman, from Miami.

That case will be heard later today, and as we've been talking about, the cases will be going back and forth from courtroom to courtroom because the lawyers are shared by both cases.

So it's going to be an interesting and long day. Leon, back to you.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Thanks much, Mark Potter, reporting live outside the Leon County courthouse this morning in Tallahassee -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, someone surely spending this long day watching the court action would be Al Gore. He is in the nation's capital, and so is Eileen O'Connor, covering his campaign.

Eileen, this must present a bit of a political dilemma for Al Gore, considering his mantra has been every vote should count, and he may very well win the White House by excluding votes.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is a problem for him, and it's a political problem, and it's the reason that the Gore campaign has never officially joined either of these lawsuits. They are watching these lawsuits, obviously, because they know the impact of the relief that is being sought, which would be to throw out those absentee ballots, which they believe would then give him an advantage of some -- of thousands of votes, potentially.

But while they do believe, though, that it does present this political difficulty -- because they have said all long that every vote counts -- that there should be these recounts, and that also, with other absentee ballots, that they shouldn't be thrown out on technicalities. So the vice president had actually instructed his lawyers to stay away from this case, because he did believe that it weakened their political argument on asking for manual recounts. So an interesting dilemma, Carol.

LIN: At the same time, his case now goes to the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, right?

O'CONNOR: Yes, and he said yesterday that he does believe he has a 50-50 chance, which is pretty much what he said last week, despite these -- the intervening days where he's had some setbacks in the courtroom with Judge Sander Sauls' decision against his motion to contest the election.

He still believes he does have a good chance. Clearly, though, the Florida state Supreme Court is a very important case for the vice president, because already on Capitol Hill some senior Democrats -- Senator Breaux saying that he believes this should be the final say, the Florida state Supreme Court. And so the vice president knowing that he does face a potential weakening of political support for him to go beyond that Florida state Supreme Court case, if it does go against him on appeal.

LIN: He needs some momentum.

Thank you very much, Eileen O'Connor -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, we know that George W. Bush's campaign is also watching the proceedings this morning in the Florida courts, and it's been said behind the scenes that, perhaps, the court proceedings today could have more of an impact on this election than what's happened in the Florida Supreme Court to this point.

Let's go now to CNN's Tony Clark. He's standing by, keeping watch, as usual, in Austin, Texas, this morning -- Tony.


While the campaign will be keeping tabs on the legal affairs going on in Florida today, I wouldn't expect that Governor George W. Bush is going to be glued to TV set. He is more of a macro manager than a micromanager, and so what we expect: He'll get his intelligence briefing this morning from the CIA, he'll meet with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, today.

He's expected to stay at the mansion pretty much most of the day, perhaps not even going over to the capitol to work there. He's been spending most of his time, really, focusing on transition, possible appointments. In fact, he said last night, in an interview, that one of the things he was to be sure and do is have his appointments lined up, have suggested appointees, so that once the legal fight is over with in Florida -- and if he prevails in that legal fight -- that he can move ahead with a new administration.

We saw him yesterday going to the capital. He stopped and talked for a longer period of time than they usually does. He did an interview with CBS News' "60 Minutes II" last night, talked about the campaign, the frustrations of waiting it out. But you also get a sense, from his openness lately, that there is a growing sense of optimism. Yesterday, the campaign was saying they were energized by recent court decisions. They see an end to this coming, but they are also very cautious about the courts in Florida and what may be lying ahead.

So they're keeping close tabs on it, but like I say, I wouldn't expect to see the governor glued to his TV set watching every legal argument as it takes place in court today -- Leon.

HARRIS: Understood, Tony. But are you hearing anything behind the scenes there about how much concern there is about the nature of the cases today, because it has been mentioned throughout the press that these two cases that are going to be heard today in the courthouse, there, in Leon County could actually be the bigger bombshell here?

CLARK: Well, yes and we have learned -- or rather the campaign has learned -- not to take anything for granted with the court system in Florida. But they also feel that they have a very strong legal argument there in Florida, and also they feel that this case does put Vice President Gore in an unusual position of trying to throw out votes. Now while the vice president and his campaign says these are separate cases that they're not directly involved in, the Bush campaign says that there are links. One of people bringing one of the cases in Florida to throw out ballots is a contributor, large contributor, to the Gore campaign, and there's some indications of ties and that there was some encouragement by the Gore campaign.

Those other kinds of things that were hearing here, in Austin, from the Bush campaign. So there is a feeling that there is a link to the vice president's campaign, but they feel that they're on very good, solid legal grounds in fighting these court battles.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Thanks much, Tony, we appreciate the reporting. We'll get back to you later on and throughout the morning.



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