Associated Press
November 16, 2000

Gore Petitions Fed Appeals Court

By Anne Gearan

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Al Gore's supporters fought on multiple legal fronts Thursday, asking a federal appeals court to stay out of the Florida election dispute while seeking help from the state courts. At last count, two dozen lawsuits were pending.

''This case is simply not appropriate for federal court intervention of any kind at this point in the proceeding,'' Gore's lawyers argued in a brief filed Thursday morning with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

George W. Bush's team was preparing arguments for the same court seeking to stop hand recounts in four heavily Democratic Florida counties.

Legal sources close to Bush said his team would argue the recounts were unconstitutional because they were being administered unevenly -- prone to bias, abuse and human error. The lawyers were examining examples of early recounts that they considered questionable in Democratic Florida counties, the sources said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

The federal court's unusually rapid decision to get involved could launch the controversy toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gore's team, meanwhile, weighed two other options -- a new appeal to the state Supreme Court and possibly returning to a local judge in Tallahassee. That Tallahassee judge refused to stop Florida's secretary of state from certifying votes earlier this week but left open the question of whether counties could try to modify those vote totals after hand recounts.

The winner in the stalemated Florida vote will claim the state's decisive 25 electoral votes and almost certainly the White House. Gore is hoping to pick up enough votes in the recounts to overtake Bush's narrow lead.

The Florida Supreme Court refused to stop the counts for now. But Florida's top election official, Secretary of State Katherine Harris, announced Wednesday night she saw no reason to accept late filings.

Bush is trying to stop Florida vote recounts he fears could wrest the presidency from the tenuous grasp his 300-vote lead conferred.

Harris declared it was her duty under Florida law to reject requests that four counties submitted earlier in the day.

Democrats have sharply criticized Harris, who supported Bush's campaign, as a partisan Republican and suggested her actions have been motivated by her politics. But a lawyer retained by her office, Joseph Klock, defended her Thursday.

''More than half the lawyers who have been working on this for the secretary are Democrats and I bet probably half of them voted for Gore,'' he said on ABC's ''Good Morning America.''

Harris noted her decision was subject to an appeal in the courts -- and minutes after her announcement Gore lawyers and aides said they would be back in state courts -- probably Thursday -- to challenge her.

''It's an outrageous decision,'' Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani said. ''It's a rash decision and it won't stand.''

If it does stand, the only change in Bush's lead would have to come from the overseas absentee ballots that are due Friday at midnight. Harris said she would announce an official winner Saturday.

Democratic lawyer Dexter Douglass said the Gore camp likely would return to a state judge in Tallahassee who ruled in the case Tuesday. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis had put Harris on notice that she needed good reason to deny late vote filings.

Gore campaign chairman William Daley criticized Harris' decision as premature: ''There was an attempt to bring a curtain down,'' he said.

A lawyer in Harris' office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected a formal contest of the election -- something that only could happen after the vote certification Harris said she will announce on Saturday.

Harris stepped to the microphones to make her announcement seven hours after the 2 p.m. deadline she had set for counties to petition for the right to update their returns.

She said four counties had done so -- Democratic-leaning Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade and GOP stronghold Collier -- and she had reviewed their paperwork.

Bush, in an 182-page appeal filed in federal court in Atlanta late Wednesday, said that granting the injunction to stop the hand counting in Florida would ''not substantially injure the rights of the defendants. ... and will clearly advance the public interest.''

The appeal seeks to stop the hand counting that Bush claims violates voters' constitutional rights by treating voters differently based on where they live.

There was no word from the court when it would hear the appeal. Earlier, the court said that all 12 of its judges would hear Bush's challenge. Bush lost a similar bid in federal court in Miami on Monday.

The legal back and forth began Wednesday when Harris asked the Florida Supreme Court to block the hand recounts at least temporarily, and to consolidate election-related lawsuits. The court, without ruling on the merits of the case, denied her petition. The ruling left open the possibility that Harris could make the same arguments in a lower state court.

The Bush campaign has fought to stop the recounts on several fronts.

They blame Gore for needlessly prolonging the process and say that Democrats sue or threaten to whenever they don't get their way. Gore's team says Bush is trying to short-circuit a legal, if frustrating, process to determine the true winner of the Nov. 7 voting.

''The litigation is ... run amok now,'' said James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state Bush dispatched to Florida to press his legal and public relations case.

Warren Christopher, the former secretary of state chosen to oversee Gore's team in Florida, defended the legal strategy. ''We simply must, in order to protect the rights of the vice president in this matter, ... take steps that seem warranted,'' Christopher said.

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