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Special Event

The Florida Vote: Judge in Seminole County Case Grills Each Attorney

Aired December 7, 2000 - 3:12 p.m. ET

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

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: In Tallahassee, Florida attention, once more, has focused again on Leon County Circuit Court and two court cases that are going on. Specifically, Martin and Seminole Counties, where there have been claims that the absentee ballot process there was tainted as a result of improper -- illegal, perhaps -- access that Republican election workers had to absentee ballot request forms. Seminole County is the case right now that is in the forefront.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is in the courtroom of Judge Nikki Clark. He's been following developments there and there have been questions that have been posed to both of these attorneys in this case in their closing arguments.

Gary, what have you heard?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Marty; as the lawyers mill around, ready to end this 10-minute break, which should end any minute, we're watching the judge, who is obviously fully engaged, sharp -- she's on top of it, she misses nothing.

And it really appears that some of the lawyers here are kind of nervous. She asked them very specific questions during the closing arguments. We see that in the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court -- that's part of their job, the justices, to ask lots of questions during the time when the lawyers talk to them. And usually in a circuit court trial, it's pretty much, you have an hour for your closing argument and the judge may ask one or two questions; but most of the time is spent where you get to the talk.

But this judge is asking a lot of questions. And she asked the democratic plaintiff's attorney, Gerald Richman, why should the voters be punished because of a mistake by the elections supervisor? And he had a tough time answering that question.

But then she asked three questions to the attorney for Seminole County, the attorney for the elections supervisor. And she said three times, by what authority the elections supervisor let Republican workers in her office to fill out the ballot applications? And he had a tough time answering those questions the three times.

And then a very, very interesting point. It was very subtle, but it was interesting because one of the allegations of the Democratic plaintiffs against the supervisor of the elections office is that she is a Republican but she's supposed to be nonpartisan. But they are saying she's acting like a partisan Republican. That's been one of their accusations during this trial.

So the attorney was talking for her and he said, quote, "the only difference between our absentee ballot" -- actually, he was the exact quote: "The only difference between the Democratic absentee ballot location -- ballot application -- and our application" -- and then he corrected himself and said the Republican application. Now their side said it's just a slip of the lip, but the democratic plaintiffs are very quick to say it's a Freudian slip.

And that's the exact point they're bringing up: that they think that that office was partisan and was only helping the Republicans. So when we get back, the Republicans, the George W. Bush's attorneys, the Seminole County attorneys will have their chance to continue their closing arguments and the democratic plaintiff will get a rebuttal and then the judge could tell us when she'll make a decision in this case -- Marty.

SAVIDGE: All right; CNN's Gary Tuchman. He is reporting from inside the courtroom of Judge Nikki Clark. She is, of course, hearing the case of Seminole County. And the question, over thousands of absentee ballots and whether or not they should be allowed to be counted.

We'll take a break right here and come back and we'll continue our coverage in just a moment.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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