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Interview with Attorneys Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, Nelda Blair

Aired September 25, 2004 - 08:00   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING, September 25; 8:00 a.m. in West Palm Beach, Florida, bracing for Hurricane Jeanne, 4:00 p.m. Baghdad.
Good morning. I'm Drew Griffin in the world headquarters of CNN.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: I am Betty Nguyen, thank you very much for being with us today.

GRIFFIN: An all too familiar site in Florida; people packing up and boarding up their homes. They're bracing for their fourth hurricane in five weeks. Jeanne could slam the state's eastern coast early tomorrow. Governor Jeb Bush updates residents at 9 a.m. Eastern. We hope to carry that for you live this morning.

In Iraq, rubble on the streets of Fallujah after new fighting between U.S. forces and insurgents, this morning, a U.S. airstrike hit a suspected terrorist meeting site. Iraqi officials say at least seven people were killed. The U.S. military say four Marines were killed in combat yesterday in the Al Anbar region, which includes Fallujah.

Remembering Jack Hensley; killed in Iraq this week. Family and friends are holding a memorial service this afternoon in the slain hostages home state of Georgia. Hensley was beheaded by Iraqi terrorists who also killed another American, Eugene Armstrong.

And in Chicago, a house fire has taken young lives, four children killed in this blaze, which officials now say is suspicious. Arson investigators are on the scene. This happened on Chicago's West Side. Officials there haven't been able to locate the parents of the children.

And finally crude oil prices are at a record high, near $49 a barrel. The markets reacting to word that oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is coming back at a slower than expected pace, that in the wake of Hurricane Ivan.

NGUYEN: Well in this half hour, storm weary Floridians are facing yet another possible hurricane. We'll get the latest on Jeanne from Rob Marciano in the weather center.

George Bush and John Kerry are practicing for next week's debate. We'll have a live report from near the president's ranch.

And "Legal Briefs": Another twist in the case of Terry Schiavo. The brain-damaged Florida woman at the center at a right-to-die battle, that in about 20 minutes.

But up first this hour, his state has been hit three times, so Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he feels like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day". Now, as you remember, in that movie the star relives the same day over and over again. Now in real life, the state is bracing for yet another hurricane. Jeanne could strike tomorrow.

Now in the Bahamas, the wind is howling as Jeanne announces its visit today. Residents there are ready for the onslaught. The storm has already killed 1100 people in Haiti and left almost 1300 missing.

GRIFFIN: Well, we are going to check in with Rob Marciano, one more time, to see what's this happening hour with Hurricane Jeanne -- Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The rain bands from this thing, already getting closer and closer to shore and likely to reach the southern Florida coastline here in the next couple of hours in the form of rain. Already, the winds reported across the eastern coastline in excess of 20 miles an hour, gusting to close to 30.

So this is a big storm getting bigger. And the wind field already affecting the beaches. Heavy surf with dangerous rip tides, I know that a lot of the surfers out there can't resist. But it is a dangerous situation. Not only along Florida but across the Carolinas later on today.

Here it is, look at how it intensifies over night. The red's getting redder, the oranges deeper, and the eye getting a little bit more organized. These are the latest numbers, it gives the intensity with winds at 105. And it's a Category 2 storm, to get over 110 that makes it a Category 3, a major hurricane.

And this is the forecast track. Sometime around midnight tonight, the eye wall expected to make landfall somewhere around Fort Pierce, give or take 50 miles either way. And we do have it forecast to strike now. Yesterday we were hoping maybe it would turn. It looks like it is making a more westerly track and Florida's under the gun.

That is the latest from here. We'll keep you updated throughout the day and over night tonight and tomorrow as well.

GRIFFIN: Thank you, Rob.

MARCIANO: Back to you.

NGUYEN: One more time, the preparations are in high gear. Folks are digging trenches and digging in. Officials are closing down some airports and ordering evacuations. CNN's Susan Candiotti is in West Palm Beach, awaiting the storm. And she joins us live with an update there.

A lot of people preparing this morning?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, and in fact, Betty, this might be the last chance for residents here in Palm Beach County to get out and make those last-minute preparations before people here start to feel the effect, the first effects of Hurricane Jeanne by mid afternoon. That's what's expected.

Here at this home improvement store, they expect to be opened for only one more hour. You see people buying plywood, batteries; no more generators left here. They'll be closing their doors here in about an hour to allow the employees here to go home and get ready as well.

Also at this hour, mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for this county and many others up and down Florida's east coast; especially for people living in flood-prone areas and in mobile homes.

There is a concern about gasoline supplies. For those gas stations that remain open, and they're opening up more than a dozen shelters.

Now, let's talk to that Tawanda (ph), who has come here with her three-year-old daughter Jasmine to buying plywood. Why did you wait till the last minute?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I wasn't going to board up. We didn't for Frances, but now that the winds have picked up and there is a lot of the debris and stuff out there. So we wanted to try to get some of those windows boarded up because of that.

CANDIOTTI: Do you have someone to help you do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yeah. We have my husband and his friend coming to do that.

CANDIOTTI: How worried are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is scary. You have to be a little worried, but not too worried.

CANDIOTTI: What do you think of the timing of this? Four storms in such a short period of time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's depressing. I mean to say the least. It's depressing -- that's all I can say.

CANDIOTTI: Tawanda (ph), thank you very much. And, of course, the best of luck to you and to Jasmine. Good luck to you. There you go, wants to say hello.

And we will have to toss on back to you. Again, they are expecting people here to start feeling tropical storm force winds, that is anywhere up to about 74, 75 m.p.h., by mid-afternoon. So, not much time left to get the preparations done before the weather turns bad.

Back to you, Betty.

NGUYEN: Absolutely, time is of the essence. Susan Candiotti, thank you so much for that. Well, at 9:00 Eastern, the mayor of West Palm Beach, Lois Frankle (ph), will join us to tell us to explain how her city is preparing for Jeanne.

GRIFFIN: And as the Sunshine State prepares for the worst CNN is going to bring you live coverage throughout Florida and beyond as the storm moves beyond that. Our team tracking the hurricane's path and we'll bring you the most up-to-date forecasts.

We turn now to Iraq. Today insurgents in Bakuba (ph) will get a day of amnesty. Are there reports the man known as number six on the U.S. most wanted list may turn himself in. In exchange for surrendering, terrorists will not be turned over to the Americans and will be given stable work.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad is being warned to stop terrorists from crossing Syria. A senior U.S. official, is telling CNN in a recent meeting, the high-level U.S. delegation directly confronted Assad with evidence of militants pouring into Iraq from Syria.

This is the scene in Fallujah. Five Iraqi national guard recruits killed in a morning grenade attack in their van, four others wounded. Authorities say the attackers escaped there.

We have an e-mail question related to these attacks this morning: Should more troops be the problem -- solve the problems in Iraq? You can e-mail us at We are getting those e-mails in. We'd be happy to read yours throughout the morning.

NGUYEN: Well, for months they've hurled verbal attacks of each other from afar. Starting on Thursday, they'll fire them off from close range. President George Bush and Senator John Kerry engage in a dual of words in their first of three debates.

Today the president is in Texas preparing and CNN's Elaine Quijano is there. Brings us the latest.

Good morning, Elaine.


President Bush is here in Crawford, Texas, along with some his top aids. White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says this is a chance for the president to get away from Washington, to clear his head, and to really crystallize his thoughts before this first debate.

Now, the president arrived here in Texas late last night after a day of campaigning in Wisconsin. It was there in Wisconsin, though, that the president hit back hard against Senator John Kerry for comments he made on Thursday regarding Iyad Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister.

Now, you remember Senator Kerry said the prime minister and President Bush were painting too rosy of a picture of the situation on the ground in Iraq. The president, yesterday, shot back, saying that was criticizing Mr. Allawi, and suggested it demonstrated a lack of statesmanship.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't lead this country if your ally in Iraq feels like you question his credibility. The message ought to be to the Iraqi people, we support you. The message ought to be loud and clear. We're staying with you, if you do the hard work.


QUIJANO: Now, the Kerry campaign in response says that the senator was not trying to be disrespectful. That he was simply trying to point out what he says was the president not being forthcoming. The campaign saying, they will continue it do so when they feel the president is not being forthcoming about the facts on the ground in Iraq.

Meantime, here in Crawford, Texas, the debate preparation goes on. We are told by a senior administration official that the president has already had several practice sessions with New Hampshire Republican Senator Judd Gregg.

We expect that again, this time around -- and we are told, Betty, some of these sessions are being described as being quite lively -- the president even giving glares over to Senator Gregg during some of these sessions, but knowing full well that this debate is going to be very highly watched. And so the president, in the words of this senior administration official, wants the senator not to pull any punches -- Betty,

NGUYEN: Elaine, see if you can get your hands on some of those outtakes of these practice debates. I've heart they are pretty hilarious.

QUIJANO: Well, I think "intense" is probably the word. The official really says that the president is the doing his homework, essentially, on this. He has audiotapes that he listens to on the road of Senator Kerry, making statements, doing Q&A sessions. So, the president is spending a great deal of time. Although, they won't quantify just how far back the president started his preparations. They say it has been going on for -- what they say -- is several weeks -- Betty.

NGUYEN: A lot of homework. All right, Elaine Quijano. Thank you very much for that.

Speaking of politics. Who will win in the West? CNN's "NEWSNIGHT" tackles that subject in a weeklong tour of four Western states, 10 p.m. Eastern, each night, that starts on Monday.

GRIFFIN: You notice how he ends in Las Vegas on a Friday night?

Still to come CNN SATURDAY, dead or alive, new revelations about Osama bin Laden. Plus, a life and death medical decision, pitting a woman's husband against her parents; what will happen to Terry Schiavo? That's ahead in "Legal Briefs". And at 8:30, "House Call" relieves your headaches with advice of which drugs are best for pain.


GRIFFIN: Here's the headlines this morning. Four children dead in Chicago. Flames ripping through a home on the West Side. The officials calling the fire suspicious.

California has OK'ed the world's toughest rules for cutting auto emissions. Automakers say the rules could end up adding $3,000 to the prices of a car. State regulators say the figure is closer to $1,000.

And is Osama bin Laden alive? Pakistan's president thinks he is. Pervez Musharraf tells CNN the Al Qaeda leader hasn't been caught because he's hiding out in rough terrain and has people helping him.

NGUYEN: Well, we are continuing to track hurricane -- which hurricane is it this time.

GRIFFIN: Jeanne.

NGUYEN: So many of them, Mean Jeanne this time. What, Charley, Frances, Ivan, Karl?

MARCIANO: Yes, Karl will not hit landfall. And now we have a new tropical storm, it is Lisa. It never ends.

NGUYEN: Yes, it doesn't stop, Rob.

MARCIANO: Well, let's get through Jeanne and unfortunately it is going to be a long night for the folks along the Florida coast. It does look like this thing is going to make landfall. There is little doubt with that. It would talk a miracle for this thing to jog and make that right-hand turn.

It has gotten better organized overnight. Tonight, about to slam into the be Abaco Islands of the northwestern Bahamas with Category 2 intensity.

These are the latest numbers at the Hurricane Center. Winds sustained at 105. It's 190 away from the Florida coast. Moving at 14 m.p.h. That will mean the western eye wall will be scratching the coastline sometime this evening and the center of the eye likely to make landfall somewhere around midnight. So, we have moved that time frame up just a little bit.

Main reason why it hasn't jogged to the north area, high pressure has been in control. You've experienced beautiful weather across the eastern third of the country for the past week. That finally beginning in the week and this thing will scoot this thing up to the north.

But that looks like that will not happen until later on tomorrow. And in the meantime, we're looking at a westerly track with this thing. And here's the forecast track for you. Making landfall again as a Category 3, expected to strengthen here in the next 12 hours. And then landfall very similar to Hurricane Frances, but then it will make that turn up through Orlando. And, of course, weakening as it remains onshore.

Hurricane warnings are out from Florida City and up through St. Augustine and Lake Okeechobee, as well, and the northwester Bahamas. Hurricane conditions are expected here in the next 24 hours. Already winds are blowing at 20, 30 miles an hour across the beaches on the Florida coastline.

Big time surf rolling in, dangerous surf, of course. And the rain and the wind will be rolling in with this over the next 12 hours as well. Back to you guys in the studio.

NGUYEN: All right, Rob, thank you very much.

GRIFFIN: You see it all of the time. Kids with some piercings in pretty peculiar places. But wait 'tail you hear when this kid showed up at his new high school sporting these piercings.


GRIFFIN: In "Legal Briefs" this morning, another chapter in the emotional saga of Terry Schiavo, who's been in a vegetative state for 14 years. The Florida supreme court makes a ruling that could allow Schiavo's husband to remove her from life support, but is that the last word on this?

Plus, the mother of a high school student fights for his right to wear piercings on his eyelids and lip. The teenager, currently serving a three-day suspension. Legal action could follow.

Two cases on our docket this morning for our legal eagles. And joining us to talk about it is civil liberties attorney, Lida Rodriguez-Tassef. Hopefully, south of Jeanne this time after being evacuated for Frances there in Miami.

LIDA RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF, ATTORNEY: Getting evacuated again.

GRIFFIN: And let's bring in Nelda Blair, in Houston, who got caught in the tailwind of Hurricane Ivan.


GRIFFIN: We're going to make you both hurricane correspondents, I think.

Let's begin with you, Nelda. And Terry Schiavo, the families have been fighting over this woman for years. And then the state stepped in trying to solve the situation and the supreme court of Florida says it is not the state's fight. Is it?

BLAIR: Well, it is not, really. And what the supreme court has said, of Florida, said, we have to have a separation of legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. That is the way nation's founded.

And what they said was when the legislature passed a law that allowed Governor Bush to basically circumvent a final court ruling, that they overstepped their bounds.

But you know what? What is really the meat of this case, what is really the bottom line that both sides should be worried about is protection of the Florida law that allows Terry Schiavo to make her own decisions as to whether or not she wants to be on life support.

And a court found after a long court battle that there was good evidence that Terry had verbally said she did not want to be on life support. That's the decision we ought to be worried about.

GRIFFIN: Lida, her parents have been fighting, trying to keep her alive. What's your take on this situation?

RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: This is a really, really sad, sad story. Where you have parents who are clinging to hope they can bring their daughter back. And it's because of the fact that it's so sad that this is such a troubling case.

I can't believe I have to say this, but Nelda is 100 percent absolutely correct in everything she said.

BLAIR: Oh, my!

RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: This case -- I know, I know. Hold back your shock for a second.

BLAIR: It's hard.

RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: I know. This case is truly about the decision that Terry Schiavo made. And a lot of people said it is her husband making the decision; and its her husband pulling the plug. But not that is not what the courts have found, repeatedly. What the courts have found is that Terry Schiavo would have wanted for this life support to be withdrawn at this point. And that is what this case is about.

And the problem is with the parents, and what's so tragic is, of course, they want their little girl back. Of course, they want to cling to hope. And frankly, what's happening here is the politicians are manipulating them and using them as pawns, in a political game to try to deprive Floridians, and Floridian families, of the right to make decisions about when they want to be off life support.

Lesson here, though, is right those living wills and it doesn't matter. You can't be too young to write one.

GRIFFIN: Quickly, yes or no, does this go to the U.S. Supreme court?

RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: No, absolutely not.

BLAIR: I agree. It won't. I don't think it will. GRIFFIN: Let's move on. We will set it up. A woman moves from Maryland with her child to Atlanta. He's got piercings all over his face. He checks into a school that doesn't allow these piercings, so he gets sent home with a three-day suspension.

And now mothers she's going to file suit, possibly, if she can't get resolved to get her kid in the school.

Lida, she have a case?

RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. This kid came from Maryland to Georgia. And does he have a case? Well, it boils down to two things. Number one, kids have constitutional rights. They don't leave them at schoolhouse door, so if this were a case of political or religious expression, he would have a case.

It would also be a case if the dress code, in this case, if this is under a dress code policy, if this dress code was discriminatory. And said, for example, girls can pierce their ears but nobody else can. So it depends.

And one of the things that's really worrisome about this isn't so much whether he has a case or not, but why is he being suspended for piercing in his ear and his lip?


BLAIR: Now, Drew, the whole problem with this case is the mother teaching her son to defy authority. What do we think is wrong with teenagers today anyway? She is teaching a teenager that if you don't like the rules, then don't follow them and sue.

You know, this is the same parent that will be so surprised when her sweet little son takes a gun to school, or joins a gang, or decides to harm somebody because he thinks it's OK for him because the rules don't apply.


BLAIR: Parents and teachers have to ban together. You know what? It's the rules. You can't pierce your eyebrow that this school. So, son, don't wear a pierced eyebrow to school.

GRIFFIN: Well, Nelda, though, is there something wrong to allow girls to pierce their ears and boys not to pierce their nose?

BLAIR: Well, they allow all sexes to pierce their ears at the school. They can pierce their ears, that's the rules. Evidently they've decided that other piercings on the face are too distracting to other students. And the school officials have made that determination. The kid has to follow it. The mother's wrong.

RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: But, Nelda, wait just one second.

GRIFFIN: Hold on, wait one second. I'm being told we are out of time, Lida. (LAUGHTER)

I think you got the last word last time, when you trashed my people out in California. Remember that?


RODRIGUEZ-TASSEF: Yeah, revenge group.

GRIFFIN: All right. We're glad you are both least right now out of the eye's path of these hurricanes. Wish you both of luck. And we hope to see you back here next week, guys.

BLAIR: Thank you.


NGUYEN: Always so fun to listen to them.

We are getting some really interesting e-mails to our question of the day. And that question is, would more troops solve the problems in Iraq?

We have one from Sandi, wife of Sergeant Ben, and she writes: "My husband is stationed in Iraq and more troops sure would help out! He has been there since March and has really has had no days off. The one day they gave him was taken up in a motor pool during repairs.

Plywood cut outs of tanks and soldiers might even be a good idea - give the insurgents something else to shoot at, while my husband and his buddies get a decent night's sleep and a chance to wash their socks by golly." That is from Sandi.

And, of course, we invite you to continue to sending in your responses. Would more troops solve the problems in Iraq? All you have to do is e-mail that to us at

And in the next half hour, "House Call" look at your pain relief options if you suffer from headaches. Then at 9 a.m., the struggle to help Haiti. I will talk with the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, about efforts to help thousands of victims left hungry and homeless by flooding.

And Governor Jeb Bush briefs Florida on Hurricane Jeanne. CNN will bring that to you live next hour.



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