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Thousands of lawyers prepare for battle in the state


Associated Press   26 October 2004

MIAMI - Lawyers on both sides of the political divide are armed for legal battle leading up to Election Day and thereafter in a state where the lawsuits have already piled up.

Many of the attorneys who were central to the battle for Florida in the protracted 2000 presidential count are back again for the contentious race between President Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry.

Most of the lawsuits filed against the state so far have been by individuals, such as U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., or civil rights organizations on issues of manual recounts on touch-screen machines and incomplete voter registration forms. But the legal teams for Bush and Kerry are ready for a potential showdown after the polls close Nov. 2.

Democrats have trained more than 10,000 lawyers for action, if needed, in Florida and other swing states. An estimated 2,000 Democratic attorneys are expected to be working in the Sunshine State on election issues. Republicans have not released their numbers but have said it will be enough to counter any legal moves by the Democrats.

"Last time, there was no preparation because there was no anticipation of what was going to happen," said Barry Richard, who argued Bush's case before the Florida Supreme Court in 2000 and is currently on standby as lead trial counsel if problems develop. "After learning the lesson of 2000, both sides have geared up early."

Stephen Zack, whose law partner David Boies argued Gore's case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, is the Kerry campaign's general counsel in Florida.

"We have enough lawyers to deal with any problems that come up, whether they happen in Key West or Pensacola," Zack said. "That should give comfort to the voters who get up on Election Day."

Both parties plan to monitor precincts, and they will be prepared to challenge the outcome if they find evidence of irregularities.

"The good in it is, to some extent, these lawyers could and probably will prevent problems," said Daniel Lowenstein, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. "The bad is that, to some extent, it probably does increase the chances we get into a serious problem because everyone's looking around for problems."

Tony Welch, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said Democrats' attorneys are focusing on places with the most problems in 2000, such as Palm Beach and Duval counties. But he sees court action as the last resort.

"The best news for us is if our attorneys have nothing to do on Election Day," he said. "The goal is to have bored attorneys, but you have to be prepared."

One lesson learned by Democrats is what to do in case of recount. Four years ago, the Supreme Court ended 36 days of recounting ballots in several counties ed by Gore under the law in place at the time.

"One thing that's clear from the 2000 contest, whoever is contesting it this time, whether it's Bush or Mr. Kerry, they're going to recount the entire state," said Dexter Douglass, a Gore attorney in 2000.

The legal action already has begun in the state where the last decision over the White House came down to 537 votes.

In federal decisions Monday, a Fort Lauderdale judge threw out a challenge to the state's plan for touch-screen recounts potentially affecting more than half of Florida's voters, and a Jacksonville judge refused to force Duval County to open more early-voting sites.

The state Supreme Court unanimously agreed earlier this month to discard provisional ballots cast at the wrong precincts, and a federal judge ruled the same way in a Tallahassee lawsuit.

"All we're asking is that the laws on the books be enforced," said Hayden Dempsey, a Tallahassee lawyer who chairs the Bush legal team. "The Democrats need all these attorneys because on the eve of the election they want to rewrite the election code."

Kendall Coffey, a Miami lawyer on hand for the Democrats, said what concerns him most is the thought of voters staying home.

"The lesson from 2000 shouldn't be about lawyers and briefcases," he said. "People look at 2000 as an issue of litigation, but the real message is everyone in America needs to know one of their votes could be the one that makes the difference in history."


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