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Election 2000: Gore Campaign Takes Contest Before Florida Supreme Court; Closing Arguments Set to Begin in Seminole County Case

Aired December 7, 2000 - 1:07 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're awaiting the start of closing arguments in one of the 40-odd lawsuits spawned by this never-ending presidential election. This one is the absentee-ballot case from Seminole County, and we'll join that live when it resumes. That should be momentarily.

Earlier today, the world witnessed an intense 68 minutes in the Supreme Court of Florida, where the Gore campaign made its last-ditch attempt to keep its so-called contest alive.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has been following all of that down there in Tallahassee. She joins us now to bring you up to speed on what's been going on -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Lou, it has been a very interesting day of oral arguments that lasted for just about an hour and 10 minutes. Attorneys representing both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush making their case before the Florida Supreme Court after submitted briefs on Wednesday that went on for 50 pages, now attorneys for both sides had a chance to present their cases before the seven justices and answer very pointed questions.

In fact, when Democratic attorney David Boies stepped up front to the bar, to address the seven justices, he barely got out the words good morning before they started pummeling him with questions.

Now Republican attorneys said afterwards that if, indeed, this court should order a count of those 14,000 or so undervotes from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties that Americans would be fed up with how long this has been going on and would probably distrust the results of the eventual outcome. Would the attorneys go on to appeal? any adverse opinion? any adverse ruling?

Well, Barry Richard said he didn't know, but certainly if this went on much longer, he said, it would give talk shows a lot to discuss.

Now, in court, during his oral argument, Bush attorney Barry Richard pleaded with the court that they should not decide to count just certain ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties, those so-called undervotes, and he urged the court to stand by the lower court's ruling.


BARRY RICHARD, ATTORNEY FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: The court is great leveler in the sense that it doesn't make any difference whether we're talking about schoolteachers and laborers and presidents and kings the rules are the same. The rules in this case are clear. There are two questions that this court must answer: Was there substantial competent evidence in the record below to support the judge's finding? Did the judge properly apply long established law?


CANDIOTTI: Now, for his part, the Democrats' attorney, representing Vice President Gore, David Boies, argued before this court that it's important that those undervotes be counted. He continued to maintain that they have never been counted. Those, especially the 9,000 or so in Dade County alone, and he believes that by counting those votes it could possibly determine the outcome of this election.


DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: There's never been a rule that says you have to recount all the ballots in an election contest. In fact, every case that we've cited has been a case, including the Beckstrom case, where only the contested ballots were reviewed. To make a different rule would be a change in the law.

The second point is that every party has a right to contest. But no party is required to contest. What the sense seems to be is that somehow Governor Bush's campaign should be somehow protected from Governor Bush's lawyers, they didn't ask for a recount and, therefore, there should be a recount anyway, even if they didn't ask for it.


CANDIOTTI: David Boies continues to maintain that if, indeed, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to order a recount of these undervotes, that it could be accomplished by December the 12th.

Now when asked by reporters how that could possibly be done, he suggested a number of ways. Number one, that the Florida Supreme Court itself would count the votes. Although it seems highly questionable, according to many analysts, that that would take place.

He also suggested that the court could appoint circuit court judges to conduct the count, or he could appoint -- the court could appoint -- county clerks to conduct the process, and proceed with it.

Now, David Boies said that, if indeed the Democrats lose here, that he would abide by, most likely, the Florida Supreme Court's decision. He did, indeed, call this court the final arbiter in this matter. However, he did add, and appear to give himself some wiggle room, that that December 12th deadline to choose Florida's electors might not necessarily be set in stone, and seemed to indicate that the Florida Supreme Court might be able to change it. How long will it take to get a ruling from this court? Of course, that is impossible to say. Although Barry Richard suggested that it could be as early as tonight. We'll see.

Back to you, Lou.

WATERS: All right, Susan Candiotti down there in Tallahassee. And that's what happened this morning.

Now this afternoon, we're going to hear those -- about those other two cases. In case you were out Christmas shopping or something yesterday and missed what it's about, it's about the practice of handling absentee ballot applications in Seminole and Martin counties. We're watching the chair here of Judge Nikki Clark, who is in the Tallahassee-Leon County Courtroom, her district courtroom, where she is about to hear final arguments.

We have CNN's Gary Tuchman, our go-to guy, who is inside the courtroom already, comfortably seated there.

Gary, is there anything going on there yet?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, not yet, Lou. But any second we expect court to start up. As we get ready for the closing arguments in the Seminole County case, we bring you this interesting development, like the historically famous Lewis and Clark, Judge Lewis and Judge Clark are apparently going to explore some issues together.

Just Terry Lewis just concluded the Martin County lawsuit, and said before he ruled, he would confer with Judge Nikki Ann Clark, who is hearing this case. Judge Lewis said he expects to have his ruling in the Martin County case by tomorrow at noon. These are two separate trials, so having two judges confer is rather unusual. But we've seen much of the unusual over the last 30 days.

A few feet in front of me right now is Barry Richard, chief Bush attorney, who we just saw arguing at the Florida Supreme Court. For Richard and other Bush attorneys it has been musical courts the last few days. Gore attorneys are not part of these two county lawsuit cases.

Now the Democratic plaintiff in the Seminole County case will get one hour for closing arguments. The Bush attorneys, Seminole County attorneys, and GOP Party attorneys will get 90 minutes. And then Judge Nikki Ann Clark will tell us when she thinks she will issue her decision, but we expect to also hear from her, as she will be conferring with Judge Lewis.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: Gary, why didn't they combine the two cases?

TUCHMAN: Similar issues, Lou, but two different jurisdictions. Seminole County is north of Orlando. Martin County is just north of Palm Beach County. So it is two different sets of people, two different jurisdictions, and therefore two different trials with two different judges.

WATERS: And the two judges will be comparing notes, and we will be hearing the final arguments in Judge Clark's courtroom any moment now.

OK, Gary Tuchman, in the courtroom, we will be hearing more from him.



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