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The Florida Recount: Third Judge Recuses Himself From Lawsuits Filed by Palm Beach County Voters; Ruling on 5:00 P.M. Deadline Expected Shortly

Aired November 14, 2000 - 11:23 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we go live right back to Tallahassee, to the Florida -- to the capital of Florida for this latest news.

Actually, let's bring in our Bill Hemmer, my partner, Bill Hemmer, who is standing by in Tallahassee.

Bill, you take it from here.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Daryn, we just heard from James Baker, making his latest case for what he calls "finality" right now in the race for the White House in this wild and wacky election year. He pointed to three precincts in Broward County that he says shows what the Democratic Party is trying to do at this time, talking about precincts that were chosen that were overwhelmingly in favor of Al Gore over George Bush. And for that, Baker says the Gore campaign is right now focusing on selectivity and not fairness.

Now, whether or not Baker has a point that settles in will most probably be decided, in the near term anyway, by a circuit court judge here in Leon County in the city of Tallahassee. We expect a decision probably within the hour, expected earlier this morning, but right now it looks like around 12:00 noon Eastern time, which is about 35, 36 minutes from now. So stay tuned for more on that to give us more direction possibly for where we are headed for later today.

In the meantime, though, Palm Beach County. Let's go down to John Zarrella, who is standing by live now to bring us up to date on yet another judge who has recused himself from the current issue.

John, what's happening there?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Bill. What we have is that over in circuit court here in Palm Beach County, there were about half a dozen lawsuits brought by individuals who said that they were cheated out of their right to vote because of the so-called butterfly ballot and the way it was laid out.

They went before a judge yesterday in emergency hearing. That judge recused himself, said he could not deal with the issue for certain reasons; went to another judge this morning, that judge recused herself. Now a third judge in Palm Beach County has also recused himself. So we would be onto the fourth judge. I don't know how many more judges there are left in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to go through here, but the first three have now recused themselves. That's one set of legal action going on here.

Other sets of legal action, of course, here we are at the emergency operations center where they were expected to begin the manual recount of the entire county's ballots this morning at 7:00 a.m. That was put on hold and suspended because of two differing legal opinions. First the secretary of state, a Republican, her legal opinion came in saying they did not have the right to recount the votes, the legal authority to do it, because it wasn't something wrong with the machine or the counting equipment that led them to want to do a complete recount.

Then Bob Butterworth, the attorney general, who's a Democrat, said in his opinion, strictly an opinion, that they did have the right to go ahead and do a recount. So now the county is going to circuit court seeking an opinion from a judge as to what they should do.

The Democratic Party is also going to circuit court here and they are asking that the so-called pregnant chads, just the little pin- point pricks in the ballots, be counted here by the election workers because, up until now, the election workers have not been counting those pregnant ballots.

So there are at least three or four different, separate legal actions going on here. The Rev. Jesse Jackson has arrived here about 25 minutes ago. He's actually off to my left side out of view right now, and he is calling on the secretary of state to recuse herself, saying that it's a completely partisan and arbitrary decision to have this 5:00 p.m. deadline. He said that he's also asking Gov. Bush to "trust the" -- quoting now -- "trust the count over the clock," that the disenfranchised, as he put it, the voters here in Palm Beach County, their voices must be heard in order for this to be a fair election in the state of Florida.

So lots of legal action on the ground. And of course lots of politics here in the state of Florida -- Bill.

HEMMER: The battle over the ballots and the battle over chad, we may have to go to Chad, the country of Chad, to find a judge who can sit on this case. John, thanks again to you.

Again, I mentioned this hearing that took place yesterday here in Tallahassee. We expect a decision shortly.

Let's go over to Mike Boettcher, who is inside that courthouse right across the street, in fact, here in Tallahassee.

Mike, what's the latest over there?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, Judge Terry Lewis took his homework with him last night. He was supposed to work on this hearing, this opinion overnight and was going to dictate it to his clerk and then have it ready at about 10:30. But we're told it's going to be more like noon. Now, there are three more prominent ways he could probably go: completely stick with the state law that says 5:00 p.m. Tuesday; he could also choose to overlook that and order the count to be done, the final county certification on the Friday deadline; or he could give time for all the recounts to be done before they're certified. But whatever happens, this is going to go to the Supreme Court, which is another block away from here. Either side, Republican or Democrat, will appeal this ruling.

Normally, it would be appealed to a circuit court of appeals here in Florida, but there is an emergency provision in the law which will allow them to bypass that and go straight to the Supreme Court for some sort of emergency relief.

So we're waiting for Judge Terry Lewis's decision. Interestingly enough, Bill, he's a novelist, and his book, his last book, was titled "Conflict of Interest."

HEMMER: We'll see if his decision reads like a book shortly here. Mike, are the lawyers for either side over there just yet? And if so, are they speculating at all about possibly their next move on this?

BOETTCHER: No, but they were speculating last night, judging by the questions that Judge Lewis was asking in court. He was taking a couple of tacks, saying if the legislature had intended to have a manual recount law, seven days wasn't enough for large counties. He also asked questions about this Friday deadline. If you're not going to certify the complete election until Friday, why have these two separate deadlines? And I think he's trying to interpret the intent of the legislature. We may have law being made here, but we'll find out when this opinion comes down in about 30 minutes.

HEMMER: OK, Mike. Mike Boettcher inside the courthouse across the street, Mike, thanks to you.



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