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Mark Herron may be the first casualty of the Recount War — an issue so touchy that some law firms are refusing to get involved in the fight. Herron, a partner and lobbyist with Akerman Senterfitt in Tallahassee and former chairman of the Florida Ethics Commission, has left the firm to help Al Gore with his ballot recount efforts. Charlie Schuette, chairman of Miami-based Akerman, said Herron quit of his own accord but added that he in no way wanted his firm to side with the Republicans or the Democrats — particularly the Democrats — in the fight for the presidency, a post that is up for grabs after last week’s close election prompted a ballot recount in Florida. Schuette said he had been contacted by both parties for assistance. Although the firm has done a lot of work for the Democrats in the past — in fact, Herron was general counsel to the Democratic party in Florida — Schuette said he worried that siding with the Democrats at this explosive time could bring a backlash from a Republican Legislature and governor — especially as Gov. Jeb Bush is the brother of Republican candidate George W. Bush. The firm routinely does a lot of regulatory and land-use work and appears before the Florida Cabinet. Schuette said it’s okay for small plaintiffs’ firms that don’t lobby in Tallahassee to represent Gore, but not for firms, such as his, whose bread and butter is lobbying. “We’ve done a lot of work with the Democratic Party, but this is entirely different,” he said. “This is pitting Democrat against Republican. It’s a fight between the two most powerful men in the world. No one wants to jump into this arena.” Herron, who did not return calls for comment, is known for his politically charged legal work. Before the election, Herron served as general counsel for the Florida Democratic Party. Ironically, he also helped Pat Buchanan get his name placed on the Florida ballot. He represented state Rep. Alzo Reddick, an Orlando Democrat, on ethics violations in 1997 and Broward County Commissioner Scott Cowan recently. Akerman is not alone in wanting to stay well away from this fray. Steel Hector & Davis was also contacted by the political parties and chose to remain neutral, said managing partner Joe Klock. “We did not want to get involved,” he said simply. The fear is legitimate, says Miami political consultant Keith Donner. “Any firm that does a lot of … lobbying has a lot at stake in a state where two of the three branches of government are controlled by the Republicans,” he says. “Still, the Gore campaign will have no problem finding qualified and enthusiastic counsel.” Meanwhile, some firms are refusing to take a firmwide stand but are allowing their lawyers to get involved individually on their own time. That’s the case at Holland & Knight, one of the largest law firms in Florida. “Individual lawyers are representing both sides as volunteers, but we are not involved as a firm,” said Rob Rhodes, a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Rhodes said early media reports identifying the firm as in the Gore camp were inaccurate. He could not, however, explain why calls placed to managing partner Bill McBride in Tallahassee are being referred to the Gore campaign. Still, many Florida law firms have lined up behind one party or the other. The small, four-partner firm Meyer & Brooks in Tallahassee has thrown its weight behind the Gore camp, as did Kendall Coffey. (Coffey, who represented the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez in the custody battle over the Cuban child, immediately witnessed fallout from his position: Relatives of Elian Gonzalez publicly labeled him a traitor and canceled an event to honor him.) Bush camp lawyers include Tew Cardenas Rebak Kellogg Lehman DeMaria & Tague; Colson Hicks Eidson; White & Case’s New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami offices; and Greenberg Traurig. Greenberg Traurig, one of the largest law firms in the state, has been active on both the Republican and Democratic sides in the past. This time, Greenberg decided to accept an offer from the Bush campaign. The firm is not working pro bono, said firm marketing director Sandy Grossman. Grossman could not explain why Greenberg chose to go with the Republicans this time. Chief executive Cesar Alvarez was not available for comment. At Akerman, Schuette said Herron, who joined the firm in 1989, told him Wednesday that he was leaving. Yet, Herron was in his office Friday, according to his secretary. “Our lawyers still have phone, mail and secretaries for a month after they’ve gone,” explained Schuette. “It’s not like this is a major fraud where we have to throw him out of the building.” Schuette said he was fearful of offending both clients and lawyers in the firm. “We have 150 lawyers in this firm, and that means that 75 are probably Democrats and 75 Republican,” he said. “I don’t know if [helping Gore or Bush] would cost me lawyers or clients, but I don’t want to take that risk.” Schuette said Herron will not return to the firm once the mess is sorted out, as he once did. After the 1994 gubernatorial election in which Lawton Chiles was returned to office over first-time candidate Jeb Bush, Herron took a year and a half off to defend Chiles on ethics charges stemming from the campaign. Staff writer Harris Meyer contributed to this report.

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