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Madame Butterfly Follies

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Will the army of lawyers end what she started?

Big news out of Florida last week. Scientists said they plan to release killer flies that will inject eggs into the bodies of pesky fire ants, and the eggs will hatch maggots that eat the heads of the ants. No word on whether this can be used to curb the recent infestation of attorneys.

Trial lawyers marched on Florida by the hundreds in the days after the election, responding to a flurry of e-mails calling all good soldiers to the front lines. So much was at stake. The presidency. The republic. The protection the trial lawyers had paid for with huge campaign contributions.

Thirty attended one hearing; 50 squeezed into another. By early last week, Theresa LePore, the designer of the infamous butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, had been sued no fewer than 12 times.

All right, so the ballot might not have been Madame Butterfly's best work. "But Theresa's not the story," argued her attorney, Bruce Rogow of Fort Lauderdale. The better story was that he found himself muscled and literally screamed at by attorneys and Democratic Party chiefs who were more concerned with getting Gore elected or feeding their own egos than using the law as a tool of justice. And some were in way over their head. "I got a call from one attorney who wanted to file an injunction but had never done it," Rogow said. "I told him if he was too stupid to know what an injunction looked like, he was too stupid to be involved in this fray."

Rogow, a scholarly, bow-tied law professor who has argued 11 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the word circus wasn't big enough to describe the show. At one point attorney Alan Dershowitz, the Zelig of American law, and another lawyer attended a hearing with Rogow, and the New York Times observed: "In a race that was not particularly close, both men beat the lead defense lawyer, Bruce S. Rogow, to the television cameras outside the courthouse."

"It's beyond ego. It's an addiction," said Rogow, who believes nothing short of a methadone-type program can save his brethren. He thinks a dozen attorneys are arguing two or three vital legal issues with style and class. But battalions of "confused lawyers are representing confused voters" in partisan sideshows that muddle everything.

Not that it wasn't entertaining. At least once a day, Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris modeled something from Chanel or Mrs. Howell's Gilligan's Island collection. Harris, a supporter of Governor George W. Bush, would issue a totally nonpoliticized ruling favoring Bush, and then Florida attorney general Bob Butterworth, who chaired Vice President Al Gore's state campaign, would issue a totally nonpoliticized response favoring Gore.

It wouldn't have been this embarrassing if Bush and Gore had insisted on more restraint. "It's a free-for-all," Rogow said, and one day in his office, the incoming calls backed him up. Dershowitz was on Line 1, and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, a Gore point man, was on Line 2. Both were calling to apply some muscle.

"Alan. Alan. Listen to me, Alan. Listening helps," scolded Rogow. He later said Dershowitz, who represents several Palm Beach County voters who couldn't figure out the ballot, wanted LePore to vote for an immediate recount instead of waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to say it was O.K. Not a chance, said Rogow. He and partner Beverly Pohl had asked the court for some much needed clarification, and they weren't going to tell LePore to do anything before the Supremes weighed in.

Rogow said goodbye to Dershowitz and hello to Christopher. "You want the counting to continue. I know," Rogow said, before giving Christopher the same answer he'd given Dershowitz. Rogow is a loyal Democrat, but he refused to play politics with the law just because team Gore wanted to rush ahead with the recount. His client is LePore, not Gore.

Go to the beach, Rogow told a weary LePore whenever she felt responsible for bringing down the republic. She was a paragon of virtue compared to some of the other players, he says. And on Thursday, when the turkey's on the table, she can give thanks for the little things. At least she's not an attorney.


Cover Date: November 27, 2000



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