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When historians look back on the contentious presidential election of 2000, they may surprise many of today’s critics who say that too much of the titanic political struggle has been controlled by lawyers. Although news stories and TV late shows focused on the image of hundreds of lawyers “parachuting” into Florida to aid one side or the other, an on-the-ground look at what happened shows that it was politicians, not lawyers, who called the shots. “I don’t know who made the decision to file,” admitted Greenberg Traurig’s Barry Richard, the Bush campaign’s lead trial counsel in Florida, hours after the Bush campaign filed its federal lawsuit to block hand recounts of votes in several Florida counties. “[Former Secretary of State James] Baker announced the decision to the legal team.” One Democratically connected South Florida lawyer, who asked not to be identified, said, “The party is making the final decisions.” A few days later, during a break in a hearing in Palm Beach County Circuit on the suits by disgruntled voters seeking a new vote in the county, a lawyer for Vice President Al Gore’s campaign, F. Gregory Barnhart, a past president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers — hardly a classic foot soldier — said, “I am not sure who is making the decisions. What’s frustrating is this has never been done before,” then adding, “the legal strategy and the voter strategy and the sense of obligation to the country — nobody wants to make a false step.” ELECTION DAY, NOV. 7 A look at the week that began with Election Day confirms a similar picture of the lawyers’ subsidiary roles. Around noon, Ronald G. Meyer, an election law expert with close ties to the Democratic Party, began receiving calls in his Tallahassee office from West Palm Beach Democrats about voters who had said there was serious confusion with the ballot. He downloaded a copy of the sample ballot, but because it was different from the actual ballot, it was difficult to grasp the problem. By 6 p.m., he was on a chartered flight to Tampa with a client, George Sheldon, a commissioner-of-education candidate. They were hoping to attend a victory party. WEDNESDAY, NOV. 8 By early morning, the phones began ringing at the 16-lawyer West Palm Beach personal injury firm Lytal, Reiter, Clark, Fountain & Williams, which claims credit for 22 multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements. Local Democratic staffers had used the firm’s conference room to make get-out-the-vote calls on Election Day, and the phones were still there. “I got a call a little after 6 a.m. from the office manager,” recalls Joan Joseph, who oversaw the phone bank. “He said, ‘You better get over here right away. All your phones are ringing off the hook.’ ” After she arrived, she began hearing the now-familiar stories of mistaken votes for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan or double votes for Vice President Gore and Buchanan. Around the same time Joseph was getting her call, Meyer was awakened by a call from Sheldon, a former top prosecutor in the office of Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Sheldon said that his former boss was being besieged by calls at his Hollywood, Fla., home about voting irregularities. They hopped on a plane, and within a few hours they were at Butterworth’s house. “It was apparent the election had been mishandled,” said Meyer, who spent the day in South Florida gathering data on the problem. Soon after 9 a.m, Republican and Democratic lawyers were at the office of the soon-to-be-besieged Theresa LePore, Palm Beach County’s elections supervisor, who had designed the controversial ballot. Talk of a recount was already under way. At about 11, John R. Whittles, a 27-year-old associate in the West Palm office of Richman Greer Weil Brumbaugh Mirabito & Christensen, had just told a friend he was too busy for lunch because he had to finish a complaint in a class action. Instead, he and another associate, Kathleen M.P. Davis, were told by firm president Gerald F. Richman to research and draft a protest form that would be placed online for voters at Democrats.com and then prepare a class action complaint alleging that voters’ due process rights had been violated in the election. In the end, the suit he labored on wasn’t filed. Later in the afternoon, Gary Farmer, a partner at Fort Lauderdale’s Gillespie, Goldman, Kronengold & Farmer, received a call from his mother-in-law, Beverly Rogers. She was upset because she believed she had inadvertently voted for Buchanan instead of Gore. After researching the issue, he concluded that Rogers had a case. Along with two other lawyers, he would file one of the first voter suits in Palm Beach County seeking a new election. At about 8 p.m., 20 to 30 Gore lawyers participated in a conference call to discuss legal strategy. Among the participants was Mitchell W. Berger, a partner at Fort Lauderdale’s Berger Davis & Singerman, a personal Gore friend and a top Democratic fundraiser. Also on the line, according to participants: Joe Sandler, general counsel to the Democratic National Committee. One lawyer involved in the call said that Sandler’s role was necessary “because I don’t think any of the attorneys wanted to take any action that would hurt the Democratic party or the Gore campaign.” THURSDAY, NOV. 9 This was filing day for Farmer’s lawsuit as well as four other voter-related ones in Palm Beach County. In Farmer’s case, Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kroll issued a temporary preliminary injunction prohibiting Palm Beach County from certifying the final results of the presidential election. Earlier, Patrick Lawlor of Deerfield Beach, Fla.’s Young & Lawlor filed another of the suits on behalf of Florence and Alex Zoltowsky, two Holocaust survivors, and their daughter, Sharon Elkin. They said that a confusing ballot had caused them to vote unintentionally for Buchanan instead of Gore. An angry Ms. Zoltowsky, who escaped the Nazis in Poland, said that she’d fight for her right to vote no matter what the politicians did. “People here take the right to vote for granted,” she said. “I want to be counted.” At 4 p.m., Whittles became one of the scores of attorneys in South Florida to get involved in taking statements from disgruntled voters, an estimated 100-150 of whom gathered to sign protest forms at the Lake Ridge Falls condo development in Boynton Beach. Earlier — around noon, Chicago time — Denise Kirkowski Bowler, an associate at Jenner & Block, was sworn into the Illinois bar. In less than 48 hours, she would be in South Florida, taking statements joined by more than a dozen lawyers from her new firm. FRIDAY, NOV. 10 On the same day the manual recount of 460,000 votes began in Palm Beach County, the lobby and conference room at the Lytal Reiter firm was a madhouse by noon, with TV crews everywhere. Elderly people in wheelchairs, women with baby carriages and scores of others were there to sign either a notarized affidavit — if they were 100 percent certain they had voted for Buchanan by accident — or a complaint, if they were less certain about a mistake. SATURDAY, NOV. 11 The Bush camp became the first to file a suit on its own when it asked U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks to enjoin Florida counties from conducting hand recounts of the votes. The Gore camp had not yet filed its own suit, but Meyer, the election law expert from Tallahassee’s Meyer and Brooks, who was helping advise the Gore team, was one of many lawyers who drafted a Gore suit — just in case — claiming that the Palm Beach County ballot violated Florida law. “The consistent message from Gore-Lieberman is that we don’t want people running off to the courthouse affecting the statutory process,” Meyer said. On another front, a team of top university statisticians were preparing to come to Florida to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, at which it was expected that a judge would determine whether to continue to enjoin the county from certifying the election results. The statisticians were to testify that Buchanan’s high vote total in Palm Beach County was statistically irregular, said Farmer, who has successfully represented patients suing health maintenance organizations. “I feel like I am trying to right a wrong,” said Farmer. “I certainly don’t want to do anything that’s going to throw this country into disarray or anarchy. But I do think the right to vote is a fundamental right, and in order to have that right, it has to be a fair vote.” At about 7 p.m., in a strip mall in Delray Beach, it’s the post-blue-plate rush. A flood of elderly people came to Palm Beach County Democratic Headquarters to complain about the vote. Rows of folding tables and plastic chairs lined the sidewalk where volunteer attorneys talked to the voters to determine if they should fill out an affidavit or a complaint. “The affidavits we are accepting are the ones we think are valid or compelling,” said Merv Wampold, a Democratic political consultant and nonpracticing attorney who oversaw volunteer lawyers. “This isn’t a game of volume.” Among the volunteers that day: newly minted lawyer Kirkowski Bowler. “I was just very concerned about what was going on in Florida,” the 25-year-old litigator said later, “and if I could make a difference, great.” Because of the nature of the controversy — with Democrats wanting to gather statements from thousands of people — and with more than a half dozen voter suits pending, the Democrats had many more lawyers working for them than the Republicans. Richard, the lead Bush attorney, said that he was handling state matters with half a dozen or so Greenberg Traurig lawyers, plus volunteers from New York’s White & Case. Theodore Olson, from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Washington, D.C., office, was handling the federal case. “I am not aware of lawyers all over the place working on state stuff,” Richard said. A registered Democrat who said that he was working the case as a nonpartisan, Richard is fully familiar with election law and believes there is no merit to the Democrats’ complaints: “You need to show there’s substantial or widespread fraud or a systemic problem that the will of the people was frustrated, and that the number of votes must be sufficient to change the outcome. It’s not sufficient that they were confused.” SUNDAY, NOV. 12 As both sides prepared for the next day’s federal court hearing, including Harvard’s Professor Laurence Tribe, who had joined the Democrats’ legal team, hundreds of volunteer Democratic lawyers met at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers headquarters in West Palm Beach to prepare to be Democratic observers for the hand recount due to start the next day. Because the meeting was partisan, some participants forced a National Law Journal reporter to leave before it began. Participants said that there was considerable discussion about hanging and dimpled chads and how to argue that a blank or uncertain ballot should count for Gore. “Obviously, we are looking for Gore votes,” said Wampold, an attendee. MONDAY, NOV. 13 On the same day Judge Middlebrooks ruled that the hand recount could go forward, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris announced that she would enforce the 5 p.m. Nov. 14 deadline for certifying Florida’s presidential vote. Richard’s team of lawyers filed motions in circuit court in West Palm Beach that led to consolidation of the state voter suits and a hearing before Judge Stephen Rapp. In front of a packed courtroom and a TV camera, he was accused in a recusal motion by one plaintiff of having called confused voters “stupid.” He denied the allegation but recused himself. TUESDAY, NOV. 14 As everyone waited for the court ruling out of Tallahassee on whether the 5 p.m. deadline would be enforced, volunteer lawyers kept taking statements from voters at the Palm Beach County Democratic Headquarters. “This is probably a little strong if it’s 95 percent,” said Leonard M. Shambon, of counsel to Washington, D.C.’s Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, to a voter who wanted to sign an affidavit but was only 95 percent sure she had voted mistakenly for Buchanan. “Well, I am absolutely certain then,” she said. “Well, 95 percent is not absolutely certain,” he responded. By this time, said Wampold, roughly 4,300 affidavits and 8,600 complaints had been taken. They were sent to Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in Fort Lauderdale, where Barnhart is a partner. In a Gore lawsuit claiming the Palm Beach “butterfly” ballot is illegal, these affidavits would be key evidence. Later in the day, the focus shifted to Tallahassee, where Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that although Florida’s secretary of state may ignore late recounts, she may do so “only by the proper exercise of discretion after consideration of all appropriate facts and circumstances.” Meyer and other lawyers spent part of the day with the newest member of the Gore legal team, David Boies, preparing for legal options — with a goal of keeping the recounts going. Richard and the GOP lawyers were also preparing for all eventualities. He said that he didn’t leave his office during the day, directing attorneys in Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Volusia and Leon counties and arguing, via telephone, motions in Miami and West Palm. “I’ve learned very rapidly to delegate,” he said. “The game plan is for me to handle the arguments because I think that’s what the client hired me to do.” His goal was to stop the recounts. When asked if the escalating litigation could do more harm then good, he said that he didn’t think so: “I am a trial lawyer, so I think going to court isn’t a bad thing.”

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