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Election 2000: Florida Supreme Court PIO Discusses Deliberations, Ruling on Recount

Aired November 22, 2000 - 8:21 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wednesday morning. It is day 15 on this Wednesday morning here live in Tallahassee, Florida. We continue to track the very latest on election 2000 from two fronts.

Number one, out of Washington, vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney hospitalized last night complaining of chest and shoulder pain. He is said to be resting comfortably this morning in George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C., still developing at this time, as we get more information throughout the morning for you.

The other story we are tracking is the fallout from last night. The state Supreme Court did issue a unanimous decision, giving three counties in Florida five more days to continue its recount, Sunday 5:00 it says that any amendments to the votes in Florida must be in to the Secretary of State's Office here in Tallahassee.

Now, if you have been with us for the past few days, you may have become familiar with a man named Craig Waters. He is the public information officer at the State Supreme Court building behind me. He is also our guest live this morning now on CNN's EARLY EDITION.

Good morning to you.


HEMMER: We've been seeing a lot of you just lately.

WATERS: Yes, unfortunately you have.

HEMMER: Take us back to the last few days. What happened inside that courtroom regarding deliberations, et cetera? What can you tell us?

WATERS: I have never seen an environment in the court of such seriousness and such humility with the magnitude of the issues that were facing the court. Our staff and our justices worked an extraordinary amount of time on this case. If you were here late at night you would see the lights on on the second floor where the justices are late into the night, and they worked very long, and of course they recognized that this was a question of the utmost importance to the nation and to the world. And so that is why we released the opinion as soon as we possibly could. HEMMER: Now they had legal briefs on Saturday, more on Sunday, oral arguments on Monday. That was the timeframe for how this was set out. What is your understanding for how many questions they were still unanswered that they took into Monday based on what they read in those briefs?

WATERS: I don't quite follow you.

HEMMER: In other words, they had the background given by the two sides, the attorneys that filed those briefs, had they made up their decision at that point, or was it truly Monday, when they listened to the oral arguments?

WATERS: I have -- I have seen many cases in the court. There are a lot of lawyers that will tell you, you know, that you win or lose your case based on the briefs. But I can tell you, having worked at the court for 14 years, I have seen what looked like loser briefs brought into the court, and then the attorney got into the courtroom and was so persuasive, it turned the whole situation around. So what happens in oral arguments can be very decisive. So no, there was no decision ahead of time. Arguments make a great deal of difference.

HEMMER: And give us an idea about the length of deliberations, based on what you know and your understanding, how long did it last?

WATERS: Well, deliberations occur in many ways at the court. They meet formally in conference, and that happens quite a bit. I know, for example, that they were in conference really from about 12:30 yesterday afternoon virtually up until the time the opinion was released. They were meeting, I know, in groups and in other more informal situations before that, but literally the discussion was going on continuously from the time that this issue came before the court.

HEMMER: Now the rumors started flying yesterday afternoon at 2:00, they came quite heated at 5:00, just before 10:00 the decision was announced. Did they know much earlier in the day what the decision was going to be, or were there deliberations up until the last moment?

WATERS: There were deliberations up until the last moment. I know there were a lot of rumors. Of course, being the PIO there, I got a lot of questions about the rumors. The best one was that we had sent out for bourbon, which turned out, of course, not to be true.

HEMMER: What about the copy machines, were they truly broken down?

WATERS: We have one high-speed copy machine that is getting a little old, and it failed on us. So we literally had to grab as much staff as we could and fan them out to all the copy machines in the buildings to make as many copies as we possibly could.

HEMMER: Also Mr. Waters, is there much talk about these justices taking on another case before this is decided, maybe in a couple of days, maybe in a week or two, have they talked about that? WATERS: Well, of course, the court is a catcher, not a pitcher. So we have to wait until the issues are brought to us before we even know what is going on. There are other cases still pending in the lower courts, and of course there is always the possibility of those cases coming up to the state's highest court.

HEMMER: Now there is also talk locally here in Tallahassee about a bit of animosity or a strained relationship, shall I say, between the court and the legislature. We sit between both of them right here in the state capital of Florida. Give us a better understanding for people watching this who aren't familiar with Florida about how that relationship stands today.

WATERS: Well, we have worked very hard to maintain the best possible relationship with the legislature that we can. And of course, we have a system of division of powers in the United States and in the state of Florida. And the Founding Fathers set it up so that there would be conflicts between the branches of government, that was an intentional aspect of the way our government was set up.

Yes, the legislature has agreed with some of the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court. But we still maintain amicable relations with them. My chief justice meets with members of the legislature and the leadership over there regularly. And I can tell you, they are friendly. There are public debates at times that some people interpret as being of some sort of animosity, but we have an ongoing communication with them and that continues to the present.

HEMMER: Yesterday, you said you were going to be at your aunt's in Alabama come Thanksgiving Day. Are you still going to make it?

WATERS: I probably will be going to Aunt Ethel's house early in the morning tomorrow, and my aunt tells me she is now the celebrity of Elba, Alabama.

HEMMER: She's got to be. We'll be here working. Craig Waters, thanks for coming by and stopping by with us here on CNN's EARLY EDITION, much appreciated.

Back to Atlanta now, here is more with Leon Harris -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Bill.



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