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Election 2000: Legal Action Continues in Florida Cases; Florida's Electors Have Common Goals

Aired December 6, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: So far, Florida's Supreme Court has not formally accepted the Gore appeal for review. That's one of many issues that will be argued tooth-and-nail in the high court chamber tomorrow morning, beginning at 10:00 a.m.

CNN's Bill Hemmer joins us now to give us an idea of what we can watch for tomorrow

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Lou, good afternoon to you from Tallahassee.

Just about an hour ago, attorneys for the Bush and Gore team did file those briefs to the state Supreme Court behind me here.

Now, this is the brief that will delivered to the seven justices regarding the Democratic appeal of an earlier contest trial from this week. Judge Sanders Sauls ruled decisively against the vice president for a further hand count of a small sample of ballots from southeastern Florida. In the brief -- it extends about 53 pages in length on the Democratic side -- they contend that the judge in this case misread the law, among other things.

And again, it is this brief that is very critical for the seven justices. They will go through the briefs, develop their questions that they will take into the oral arguments tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. And again, it's Florida -- that's sunshine law, and that means televised hearings tomorrow here in state Supreme Court.

Now, it should also be pointed out two issues the justices will be examining. Number one: Should they take the case? And number two: If they affirm that question, what are the merits of the case? So again, that's coming tomorrow 10:00 a.m. here in Tallahassee.

One other issue to talk about before we go over to circuit court. That's the issue of protest. Democratic protesters and activists have turned out by the hundreds today in Tallahassee and they're passing out these orange ribbons right here. You may see them on the lapel of a number of people that we've been interviewing throughout the day.

They are filing this protest on two fronts. Number one: They say make every vote count. And number two: They're trying to send a message to the state legislature here in Tallahassee not to go into a special session. Again, we have activists, several hundred by my count. At least 500 I saw 30 minutes ago. They had anticipated about 2,000, but we don't think they have reached that number quite yet.

In the meantime, I talked about circuit court. A lot to talk about over there.

Two trials under way, and for more on that, here's CNN's Mark Potter.

Mark, hello.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, we are now in a lunch break in the Seminole county trial here at the Leon County Courthouse. Court should resume in about 45 minutes. One of the reasons the judge called an 1 1/2 hour break was so the lawyers could agree on which depositions to show the court without argument, and that's an attempt to try to speed this trial along because there's another trial, from Martin county, that needs to follow this one on the same day.

Now, my colleague Gary Tuchman has been sitting in the courtroom, first in Martin county's case, and now in this one.

Gary, what are the lawyers telling you during this break about their impressions about how things are going, particularly in the Seminole county case?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the Seminole case, the lawyers for George W. Bush say they are very confident. And that's not a big surprise, lawyers always like to say they're confident. But Barry Richard told me that A, there's no substance to this case, no legal basis to take away these votes.

And I said to him, but Mr. Richard, you have a problem here. you have a judge who has an awful lot of power. Unlike Judge Sauls, who could have ruled in favor of the Gore forces, but then votes would have to be counted, this judge can, basically, say there was a wrongdoing here, and I'm taking away thousands of votes from George W. Bush.

But he said he's not worried, she's a good judge, and they think they're going to win this case.

On the other side, though, the plaintiff -- Gerald Richman, the attorney for the plaintiff here -- says they think this case is going very well, and they think they're on the verge of winning this and having votes taken away, net votes taken away from George W. Bush. And they say it's fair because there are a lot of Democrats who weren't able to have the same rights.

POTTER: Different opinions on how the trial is going, and very different opinions on what happened in Seminole county. There are very strong arguments -- statements -- that were made this morning by the competing attorneys. Talk a little bit about that. They are looking at -- they agree on the facts, but they're interpreting them differently, and interpreting differently what should happen in this case.

TUCHMAN: That's what's so fascinating about this case. They totally agree on all the facts, they both admit that the election supervisor in this county allowed Republican workers to go inside her office and put missing voter ID numbers on ballot applications, most of which were filled out by Republicans, eventually, with Republican votes for George W. Bush.

But the Republicans say she was just doing a nice thing, and she would have done it for the Democrats, too, if the Democrats asked. But the Democratic side says she did because she wanted to help the Republicans, because she's a registered Republican, and she wasn't acting non-partisan, like she was supposed to be.

POTTER: Now give us a little bit of a feel for what's going to happen throughout the rest of the day. You've jumped from one courtroom to another. How's it going to work out for the rest of the day?

TUCHMAN: This is a fascinating case, and this will be in law school textbooks for many years to come, and probably journalism textbooks, too. but what's happened: The Martin county case started this morning, 7:00 Eastern time, in a courtroom on the third floor.

He took a break at 8:15 for the Seminole county, which was at the courtroom right next door to that one. That began at 8:30. The Seminole county case, according to the judge, will end today. They will conclude that trial.

A half an hour after that trial concludes, they'll resume the Martin county case, and he hopes to conclude that trial tonight, too.

So two major cases in this presidential contest all expected to start and end on the same day, on the same floor, in the same courthouse, in the same state capital of Florida.

POTTER: Although if past is prologue, we're likely not to see the end of it here in the Leon county case. This will probably go to an appeals court, like everything else, right?

TUCHMAN: That Florida Supreme Court will probably get both these cases eventually, too .

POTTER: But for now, we know where Gary Tuchman's going to be: He's going to be sitting on hard benches in a courtroom listening to two different trials, and it's going to be a long day for you, a long day for everybody, and we're expecting the court to resume, in the Seminole county case, in about 40 minutes from now. And in this case, the plaintiffs are asking that at least up to 15,000 ballots be thrown out because of alleged irregularities in the handling of absentee ballot applications.

Bill, back to you.

HEMMER: All right, Mark, Gary, thank you very much. And to our viewers, we'll continue to monitor that trial -- both of them -- throughout the day today. And we'll bring you back updates throughout the day here in Tallahassee.

And once, again, tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m., make sure you're with us for the oral arguments inside state Supreme Court here in Leon county.

Back to Lou, now, in Atlanta -- Lou.

WATERS: OK, Bill, that's the latest from our team in Tallahassee.

The Gore camp is very optimistic it can still win the right to recount all those undercounted or otherwise disputed ballots from Dade and Palm Beach counties.

CNN's Patty Davis joins us now, from Washington, with more about that expressed optimism -- Patty.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Lou, Vice President Al Gore's campaign says that Judge Sanders Sauls, of Leon county circuit court, failed to take into account some crucial evidence, and that was those 14,000 ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. The Gore campaign focusing its attention on the appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

But they're also keeping an eye on the trials in Seminole and -- on those cases in Seminole and Martin counties. They are not part of those lawsuits, but Vice President Al Gore, yesterday, said that Democratic votes were, in essence, taken away, he says apparently thrown in the trash can while Republicans were allowed to fill out Republican absentee ballots that didn't have all the information, specifically voter ID numbers on them.

Now we do expect to see Vice President Al Gore today. He is here at his official residence in Washington, but we are told any moment now he will be heading over to the White House. He's got some business that he needs to take care of -- Lou.

WATERS: Patty, the vice president went out of his way yesterday to say he's not part of the lawsuit. We know he's not on the papers printed out in the courtroom, but he had a very encyclopedic knowledge of what's going on there. Is there any contact between those lawyers down there in Seminole county and the Gore campaign?

DAVIS: Well, the Gore campaign saying no. They're trying to stay as far away from this as possible, but it could end up being the Gore campaign's salvation in this whole thing.

The bottom here is that this would, in essence, be throwing out ballots -- if you combine those two, perhaps 25 000, in both of those counties. The Gore campaign's whole premise here has been that it's trying to include ballots, that it wants all votes to be counted. So they're walking very carefully on this -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Patty Davis, in Washington.

Jeanne Meserve is, as usual, observing what's going on in Austin, Texas, with the Bush people.

Here's Jeanne, with the latest on that.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, these cases in Martin and Seminole counties have the potential to upset the apple cart and put Al Gore ahead in Florida's vote tally, so of course, they're being watched and considered very carefully by the Bush campaign. Governor Bush, this morning, consulted with James Baker, his man on the ground in Florida about this, and afterwards, Governor Bush offered the opinion that the law was on his side in this case.

They are very aware of the background of the judge in this case, Judge Nikki Clark. She worked for Lawton Chiles, also for Attorney General Bob Butterworth, when she was attorney. And after she became a judge, Jeb Bush, who then became governor, passed her over for a promotion. So they're very aware of that, but they do not believe, they say, that she, or any other judge, would take this radical remedy of throwing out all the absentee ballots because of problems with the applications on just a couple. They say absolutely nothing illegal has been done.

The governor, although he's monitoring the legal situation, has been devoting the bulk of his attention today, as in past days, to the transition. Meeting with him today at the Governor's Mansion: Condoleezza Rice. She was the top Soviet affairs advisory to Bush's father when he was president. Bush was asked today if he's ready to name her national security adviser, as expected, or make any other personnel announcements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of the potential cabinet members are friends of mine. I've made no formal offer. In terms of the White House staff, I've spoken fairly directly to people about possible service in the White House. And there'll be an appropriate moment to name those people. And Condy Rice is on the list.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: And because of the nature -- because of the nature of this meeting, Bush was asked several international policy questions. He called for bipartisanship in foreign policy, he warned that terrorists should not use this electoral confusion in this country or see it as any sort of opportunity or opening, and he reiterated what he said in the campaign relative to the Middle East: that the U.S.should be patient and not impose any artificial time deadlines there.

But the principal amount of his attention today on transition. he's meeting, this afternoon, with Andy Card, his designee to be White House chief of staff, if there is, indeed, a Bush administration.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, reporting live, from Austin, Texas.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And, of course, all these legal fights are over two groups of 25 people each.

WATERS: Those would be the electors, the folks who will vote for either Al Gore or George W. Bush on December 18th, and that will be that, we think. But who are these electors?

ALLEN: They really do have names and faces, and CNN's David George met two of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNETTE WYNN, DEMOCRATIC ELECTOR: ... and we'll be ready to go.

DAVID LEWIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Democrat Jeannette Wynn hopes to be one of the 25 Floridians who cast the decisive electoral college votes for president on December 18th.

WYNN: It was something I could share with my grandkids in the future.

TOM SLADE, REPUBLICAN ELECTOR: It'll be something that we will all remember for the balance of our lives.

LEWIS: Republican elector Tom Slade hopes he will be casting that vote. On the surface this executive and former chairman of the Florida Republican party...

WYNN: This is Jeanette.

LEWIS: ... and this union president and civil rights activist face each other across a political chasm. You would think they have nothing in common, but they do -- just listen.

SLADE: We've kind of been in the good-news-bad-news, bad-news- good-news business for about the last 20-odd days now.

WYNN: It's just been, you know, it's ups and down, up and down.

SLADE: This has been a very emotional struggle.

WYNN: It's almost like an emotional roller coaster.

LEWIS: One would expect bitterness or anger after Florida's bare-knuckle political duel, but not in these two.

WYNN: I only want to see what is fair happens for all. You know, my faith lets me know that, you know, whatever is going to be is going to be.

SLADE: I've been awfully proud, quite candidly, of both political parties. They have scrapped for the right to be the winner.

LEWIS: With the legal battles favoring Governor Bush in the last few days, there is a sense the end is near.

WYNN: I'm sad, but, you know, tomorrow is a new day. We must go forward.

LEWIS: But for these two, it's not over yet.

SLADE: Still even today, seemingly when Al Gore is almost out of oxygen, it's still not completely over and done, so the excitement continues.

LEWIS: (on camera): Before too much longer, either Jeannette Wynn or Tom Slade will walk into the Florida state capitol here and finally cast their electoral college vote. David Lewis, CNN, Tallahassee, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: And that will be an experience.

ALLEN: Yes, it will.

WATERS: This will end, we're assured that this all will end.

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