The Legal Road Ahead


Depending on how you count them, there are now at least nine separate lawsuits fueling the postelection feud in Florida. Al Gore’s legal team – seizing on the confusing Palm Beach County ballot that may have caused thousands of Gore supporters to accidentally vote for Pat Buchanan – is searching for a way to prevent the vote count from being officially certified. On Saturday the Bush camp fired off a shot of its own, filing a federal lawsuit to prevent a Gore-requested hand recount of ballots in Palm Beach and other counties. Teams of lawyers for both sides have descended on south Florida to pore over election statutes for anything that might give them a foothold in court. “We’re preparing for a full-blown legal fight,” says Ron Meyer, a Democratic election-law attorney from Tallahassee.

Just how long that battle will last is hard to say. At some point Gore – or Bush – could decide that the fight is too damaging to himself and the country and concede the race. If neither does, the lawyers could drag this thing out for weeks or even months.

The Democrats got a break last week when state circuit court Judge Kathleen Kroll issued what may have been the first court order in history freezing the results of a presidential election, barring local officials from certifying Palm Beach County’s ballots at least until a hearing this week. At first, Democratic lawyers had filed their case in federal court in West Palm Beach, where they were assigned a Reagan-appointed judge, Kenneth Ryskamp. The lawyers soon dropped the case there and refiled in state circuit court, where they drew Kroll – a liberal Democrat married to a Clinton-appointed Labor Department official. That doesn’t, of course, mean Kroll will be an automatic pushover for the Democrats. But some Republicans have complained that the Gore side is shopping for sympathetic judges.

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