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Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes is facing sharp criticism for her decision to hire a law firm with close ties to the Republican Party to represent the nonpartisan supervisor’s office in the upcoming elections. Snipes, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, hired the four-lawyer firm Blosser & Sayfie in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., several months ago to represent her in any election-related litigation. Name partner Justin Sayfie is a former spokesman for Gov. Bush and currently is co-chair of the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign in Broward County, Fla. The other name partner, James Blosser, was the local finance chair for Jeb Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign and is a top fund-raiser for President Bush’s re-election campaign. Many observers expect the election will be extremely close in Florida and predict it will touch off litigation. County election supervisors could play a key legal role. After learning of Snipes’ decision to hire Blosser & Sayfie, Mitchell Berger, a top Democratic attorney with the Kerry/Edwards campaign in Broward, called for Sayfie to resign from either his Bush/Cheney campaign position or to have his law firm step aside as counsel for Snipes’ office. “That office has to stay completely above partisan politics,” Berger said. “This does not lead the public to have faith in our voting system.” Matt Miller, Florida spokesman for the Kerry/Edwards campaign, said “it’s concerning that the chair of the president’s campaign is the same person entrusted with ensuring the sanctity of the election. I don’t think anyone wants a repeat of 2000.” Snipes, who was appointed by Bush last November to replace ousted Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant, is running for election as supervisor in the Democratic primary next Tuesday. She did not return calls for comment. But Sayfie denied that there’s any conflict for his firm in representing Snipes’ office. “Our firm represents the Broward County Supervisor and does not represent the Bush/Cheney campaign,” he said in a written statement. The Broward controversy comes shortly after the Bush/Cheney national campaign’s top outside lawyer was forced to resign because of alleged conflict. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C., attorney Ben Ginsberg quit the GOP presidential campaign after acknowledging he had advised a group of Vietnam veterans in their controversial campaign attacking the war record of Kerry. Sayfie said that although Snipes hired his firm, the legal work for the supervisor’s office will be done by Blosser & Sayfie partner Norman Ostrau. Ostrau, he said, is a lifelong Democrat and a former state legislator from Broward. He represented the Broward County canvassing board in 2000 as a deputy county attorney before retiring last year. Sayfie said he and the other lawyers at his firm would have nothing to do with Ostrau’s work for Snipes. “There’s a Chinese wall between us,” Sayfie said. He also said he doesn’t plan to do any legal work for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Top Bush/Cheney election lawyer Thomas Spencer previously had said Sayfie would be one of the campaign’s election lawyers, but Sayfie says that wasn’t accurate. Berger, however, rejected that argument. “That works in large law firms but there are only about four lawyers in that firm,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to not talk about cases in a firm that size.” Sayfie’s comments also did not appease other critics of Snipes, who was a career teacher and administrator in the Broward public school system. Snipes is running for election against Miriam Oliphant and Jamie Bloodworth. “She should know better in such a politically charged atmosphere,” said Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a partner at Duane Morris in Miami who heads the nonpartisan Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition. “This erodes the confidence of voters.” Broward County Commissioner Lori Parrish, a Democrat who is running for county property assessor, also criticized Snipes’ decision. “Why would she do that?” Parrish said. “Of all the law firms in Broward County, she had to pick one that was so involved in politics?” Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which has filed a suit to allow manual recounts on touch-screen voting machines, called Snipes’ selection of Sayfie & Blosser “troubling.” But Bruce Rogow, a constitutional law professor at Nova Southeastern University, called those views “a very cramped view of conflict of interest.” He said lawyers “shouldn’t be penalized for their political view.” Berger said the situation unpleasantly recalled the partisanship of key Florida elections officials during the 2000 election. Four years ago, then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was in charge of the state election system, also served as Florida co-chair of the Bush/Cheney campaign. And then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth, served as an official of the Gore/Lieberman campaign.

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