A big, Southern-fried "no"

Everybody stays cordial, but behind the scenes, the Bushies exchange bear hugs while team Gore eyes the Florida Supreme Court.

By Jake Tapper

Published December 5, 2000 12:22AM (EST)

When Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls enters his courtroom at 4:40 p.m. Monday to rule on Vice President Al Gore's motion to contest the certified election result -- and the notice of appeal is all prepared, typed up neatly and resting in Gore attorney Jeremy Bash's briefcase -- he gives the Gore campaign nothing, not a thing, not a scratch or a lick or a whit of what they wanted.

In short, a big fat Southern-fried no.

Sauls, in his North Florida drawl, glasses perched on the edge of his nose, tells the court, "It's not enough to show a reasonable possibility" that the outcome of the election would have been different because of illegal votes counted or legal votes not counted. "Rather" -- ra-thuh -- "you have to show a reasonable probability. In this case, there is no credible statistical evidence" presented to the court that shows such a case to be true.

The Gore legal team, Sauls says, didn't "establish any illegality, dishonesty, gross negligence, improper influence, coercion or fraud in the balloting and counting process."

One by one, Sauls goes down the Gore claims and crosses them off the list of arguments he was willing to buy. They didn't show that Miami-Dade's votes from its partial hand recount should be included in the full result. They didn't show that the Miami-Dade, Palm Beach or Nassau County Canvassing Board abused its discretion.

"The plaintiffs failed to carry the requisite burden of proof," Sauls says. He declares the matter over, notes that the hundreds of thousands of ballots that had been shipped to Tallahassee via Ryder truck would remain in court custody pending an appeal and leaves the room.

The Gore lawyers -- lead David Boies, genteel Southern gentlemen Dexter Douglass and Deeno Kitchen and Miami trial lawyer Stephen Zack among them -- politely cross the room and congratulate the victors who so ably represented Gov. George W. Bush: Tallahassee attorney and former Democratic legislator Barry Richard; Chicago Kevin Spacey-clone Phillip Beck; Irv Terrell from former Secretary of State Jim Baker's Houston law firm; Fred Bartlit from Colorado; and Republican National Committee counsel Ben Ginsberg.

Boies walks out of the room with a big grin plastered on his face, oddly Gore-like.

When are you going to appeal? He is asked.

"Right now," he says.

Douglass is asked the same question.

"It's probably being done as we speak," he says. Actually, it was before.

Cameras and boom mikes surrounding them like piranhas, the Gore team turns left, to a holding room near the circuit court judge's chambers, while the Bush team turns right, to the court administrator's office.

In the Bush room, there's a huddle among the 12 lawyers, according to an account by spokesman Tucker Eskew. "A round of bear hugs and back-slapping," he says. "In the Bush way, we quickly recognized that we need to be both grateful and humble."

"The bear hugs were heartier than usual, the backslaps were heartier than on most days and the weary grins were well-earned," Eskew says.

In Gore land, things are less jubilant. Boies asks if they should go down to the rotunda on the first floor and talk to the press.

Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway tells him, "We can hold here" since "the Republicans beat us to the podium."

"No, let's go down and see what the other side has to say," Boies says.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris' lawyer, Joe Klock, is at the podium when they arrive. He's describing Sauls as "a very thoughtful judge" who pays "a lot of attention to the law."

Boies, Douglass, Zack and Kitchen approach the podium, though only Boies speaks. Before he can finish, the Bush lawyers show up and huddle at the side of the media throng before politely retreating to an information desk several yards away.

Boies faults Sauls for not even looking at the ballots in dispute. "You can't resolve that contest without actually looking at the ballots," he says. He says he's never heard of such a case, when a judge in an election contest didn't look at the ballots in question.

He says that the fact that they were examined by canvassing boards is irrelevant to this particular legal phase. "The contest statute does not provide for any discretion by the canvassing boards," he says.

Then, momentously, Boies says: "They won. We lost. This is going to be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court. I think whoever wins at the Florida Supreme Court, we'll accept that."

Next come the Republicans. Richard says that Sauls' ruling much resembles his closing argument from Sunday night. "Judge Sauls hit every point," he says. "He even got one I didn't think of."

Which one was that?

"I'm not going to tell you which one!" he says and smiles.

On the side, a Bush press aide is fielding interview requests for Richard. "I know he's desperate to go home to his wife and kids," she says, trying to keep Richard's schedule light.

Upstairs, behind courtroom 3-D, Sauls thanks his staff. He takes a personal call, removes his robe, takes the elevator downstairs to the parking garage and skedaddles home.

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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