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On the scene with Greta Van Susteren in Florida

CNN Legal Analyst Greta Van Susteren is tracking the legal wrangling over the presidential election results in Florida.

greta
Greta Van Susteren  

Q: What surprised you about this dispute?

Van Susteren: While spending the day in West Palm Beach, I met canvassing board members, deputy sheriffs and voters, and I realized it's not just a news story -- it actually involves real people.

Q: Lawsuits seem to be flying into courtrooms. What's to stop frivolous claims from tying up courts forever?

Van Susteren: Rule 11 gives every single judge the power and the duty to dismiss frivolous cases. If they have merit, the judge will keep the case in the court. Otherwise, it is his duty to throw it out.

Q: Could this continue even after a president has been sworn in? Could plaintiffs file for damages, claiming that because their votes were not counted, presidential policies were put in place that harmed them?

Van Susteren: I don't know if equitable relief is a problem once a president is inaugurated because their claims have then become moot. The cases would probably be dismissed unless something really extraordinary happened. And at this point, it is anybody's guess.

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Q: Is anything like this political wrangling taught in law school?

Van Susteren: No. Nobody ever has gone through this, nobody ever anticipated this. We thought we'd seen everything with the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Then we thought we'd seen everything with President Clinton's trial in the Senate. But this trumps all.

Q: The judge ordered Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris not to make any "arbitrary decisions" about rejecting any amended ballot returns. How will it be determined what is arbitrary?

Van Susteren: Probably in court. If the manual recounts result in Democrat Al Gore getting the most votes, and if she refuses to consider those ballots, the Gore campaign or the Democratic Party will drag her into court, and she will have to explain why her decision is not arbitrary and capricious.

If George W. Bush wins the recount, it's all over.

Q: One legal expert said Harris would probably be sued. Theresa LePore, who designed the butterfly ballot, already has an attorney fending off allegations. Is there any legal protection for officials who get caught in this cross fire over ballots?

Van Susteren: Yes, there is government immunity depending on the act. Harris and LePore would not be sued personally, just in official capacity. The lawsuits would be filed against their offices. A ruling in such a case could result in an order for them to do something, but would not result in damages.

They may face legal fees unless the state or county provides a lawyer.


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Tuesday, November 14, 2000


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