Sauls Mauls Gore; Now on to Florida Supremes

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David Boies talks with reporters at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee

Less than 72 hours after it officially began, phase one of Al Gore's contest to the Florida election results was over. And the news was very bad indeed for the vice president's team.

Monday afternoon, Leon County Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls dealt what appeared to be a crippling blow to Al Gore's attempts to claim the presidency. Phlegmatic as ever, Sauls said Gore "failed to carry the requisite burden of proof," summarily rejected Gore's case, and refused to order a recount. Furthermore, Sauls added, the Gore team had failed to establish "a reasonable probability that the results of the statewide election in the state of Florida would be different from the result which has been certified."

Despite the attendant drama, Sauls maintained his no-nonsense demeanor as he passed down the ruling; he read through his decision without ceremony, then adjourned the court and promptly left the room.

Dismembering Gore's arguments

First, the judge laid down his logic: The plaintiff did not provide evidence showing that the results of the election would have changed if the recount took place. Then, one by one, Sauls struck down Gore's arguments, decimating the case David Boies et al. had taken such care to construct over the weekend.

The most consistent theme was lack of evidence to prove Gore's allegations. There was, according to Sauls, no evidence to show abuse of discretion by the canvassing boards in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade or Nassau counties; there was no evidence of fraud or improper influence in the counting process; there was no preponderance of evidence showing balloting or counting problems widespread enough to necessitate a recount. In other words, Al, you've got no case.

This was a decisive setback for the Gore team — but it wasn't necessarily fatal. Five minutes after the opinion was read, Boies had positioned himself outside the courtroom, promising an appeal and shaking a verbal fist in Sauls' direction. "This ruling comes without the judge having reviewed one ballot," he said indignantly. "We have said from the beginning of all this that we believe citizens have a right to see their votes counted," he proclaimed.

To that end, Gore will appeal. Saying "They won. We lost. We're appealing," Boies also emphasized the time constraints pressing on both parties, and urged the courts to move quickly on the appeal — presumably with a watchful eye on the looming December 12 deadline, at which point Florida's electors must be officially chosen.

Gore team shrugs off disappointment, forges ahead

The persistence of the Gore legal team is testament to either incredible faith or unbelievable delusion. Despite a sequence of setbacks, the Democratic attorneys continue to tear through the Florida legal system, hoping (somehow, somewhere) to find a judge sympathetic to their cause. After Leon County Circuit Court Judge Sanders Sauls rejected Gore's contest of the Florida election results Monday afternoon, David Boies was raring to appeal, intimating that the case was already well on its way to the Florida Supreme Court.

Thus, the Gore briefs will take a brief and largely ceremonial pass through the 1st District Court of Appeals Monday evening before landing in the state's high court.

A tall order for Boies

Once they've gotten an audience with the high court (and that's assuming the seven Justices are moved to accept the case at all), Boies et al. face a staggering legal challenge. Somehow, in order to overcome Judge Sauls' ruling, the Democrats must convince the Florida Supreme Court that the Leon County judge abused his discretion by ruling as he did.

Despite his righteous protestations, Boies faces a strictly uphill task. In order to convince a higher court to take the case, he'll have to prove that Judge Sauls abused his judicial discretion or misunderstood the law — charges jurists are loath to level against fellow members of the bench. And if that weren't enough pressure, the Florida Supreme Court knows that that the critical eyes of those black-robed Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court will be watching their every move.