State’s lawyers and judges catapulted to international fame

first_imgState’s lawyers and judges catapulted to international fame State’s lawyers and judges catapulted to international fame Associate Editor One day, Palm Beach County Judge Charles Burton was a rookie judge handling routine shoplifting and trespassing cases. The next thing he knew, the whole world watched as he chaired a canvassing board dealing with baffling butterfly ballots. He pulled 17-hour days, as they recounted by hand presidential votes, amid flare-ups of mass confusion and partisan passions. The election debacle snagged him not only a seat on the witness stand at a Tallahassee trial where the judge declared him a “great American,” but a ringside spectators’ seat at historic oral arguments at the United States Supreme Court. While boarding a plane in Washington, the airline agent took Judge Burton’s ticket and held it high to get a look at it through the light, mimicking his now-famous chad-checking pose. Judge Burton got a big laugh out of that, along with the stunning realization that he was now famous. “Total strangers are stopping to thank me. People are coming up to me taking pictures, wanting me to autograph sample ballots,” Judge Burton said. “It was clearly an awesome experience.” Judge Burton joins dozens of Florida lawyers and judges flung into the limelight or toiling behind the scenes during the 36-day rollicking ride to fill the nation’s top job. A global audience hung on every live-broadcast word from Dexter Douglass’ homespun quotes draped in Southern drawl to Second Judicial Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls’ jovial exchange over a speaker phone with Miami-Dade Assistant County Attorney Murray Greenberg about the logistics of trucking ballots upstate. When Pat Roberts, president of the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, looked out at 19 television satellite trucks parked near the Florida Supreme Court, he described the ratings as “off the chart. . . the largest media TV-viewed event in the history of the United States,” bigger than the death of Princess Diana or the Gulf War. Now that the hoopla has faded, what did it really feel like to be a sleep-deprived, adrenaline-fueled Florida lawyer playing a starring role in this high-stakes national drama? We caught up with a few of the celebrity players and supporting cast in George W. Bush v. Al Gore and its many twisting subplots. Toiling in the Trenches “The largest peacetime mobilization of legal talent in the country’s history” is how Benjamin L. Ginsberg, general counsel for the Bush campaign, described the throng of lawyers descending on Tallahassee after Election Day. More than 100 lawyers working for Bush took over the top two floors of the Florida GOP headquarters in Tallahassee, as well as the downtown Greenberg Traurig law firm and Gray, Harris and Robinson on Kleman Plaza. Jason Unger described the hectic scene at Gray, Harris and Robinson as setting up three law firms overnight, complete with a full technology studio, staffed with lawyers from Houston, Denver and Chicago firms. It was exhilarating to be around so many high-caliber legal minds who had clerked for Supreme Court justices, Unger said. Add in an array of expert witnesses, paralegals and secretaries, and it was jammed-packed organized chaos while years of litigation were smashed into a month of fast deadlines, hurtling them through the dizzying ups and downs of quick-changing victories and defeats. “We had to have name tags to know who was who,” said Unger, who described himself as “a hard-core Broward County Jewish Republican, one of three.” “Every day, I had this surreal moment of coming off the elevator and walking into our office, which was transformed into an absolute war room,” he said. All pictures were stripped from the walls, replaced with posters plotting their entire legal strategy and assignments focusing on the military ballot recount in 67 counties. Little cards helped keep track of all the lawyers telling who was where and who they were with and what they were up to. “I got at least three or four hours of sleep each night. And the out-of-state lawyers had a choice of crashing on the couch in the office or going back to the hotel. Most of the time, they just crashed on the couch,” Unger said. “I lost track of the days of the week. No one knew whether it was Thursday or Sunday. It didn’t matter. We were always in court.” A block away, the legal team for Al Gore crammed into the offices of Berger, Davis & Singerman (later moving to an extra empty office next door to Dexter Douglass’ law firm) where John D.C. Newton II, former president of the Tallahassee Bar Association, found himself in the thick of things. He was filing briefs for Gore, hanging out with top legal eagle David Boies and Warren Christopher. One of many bizarre moments Newton will never forget was when he’d drafted the first brief for the Florida Supreme Court, a partner in Washington was doing final revisions, and the printer and copier were cranking out pages while the TV blared. “The image of the Supreme Court came on the screen, with the banner: `Gore brief due in 15 minutes,’” Newton recalled. “It was an incredibly surreal moment to watch your life in real time on national television.” Another surreal moment, Newton recalled, was sitting with two other lawyers in front of the TV watching the trial in Judge Sauls’ court, while they all worked on the brief for the appeal when the trial was over. Newton’s two-person law office bustled 24 hours a day, crammed with 17 lawyers and staff sitting at card tables with laptops. Besides that group of legal talent, Newton said, they were helped by what they dubbed “The Elves,” lawyers all over the country who volunteered their time to do legal research and help make deadline with tidbits of info in calls and e-mails. Adding to the craziness was being the father of a 3-year-old daughter, who sometimes came to the law office and sat on the floor with a crayon and colored the briefs, master of a dog that had to be dropped off at friends because there was no time to walk or feed him, and son to a mother who suffered a heart attack and was stunned to get a call from Gore himself in her Sebring hospital room, just weeks before she passed away. Despite the personal crises, Newton will cherish memories of this once-in-lifetime case. “It was wonderful to sit in on a conference call with the Vice President as he’s reviewing a speech he’s about to give on national TV to make sure it’s accurate,” Newton said. “We were in the middle of a historic case, and it was exhilarating.” On the last day, when the last brief was filed with the Florida Supreme Court, Newton recalled, “There were a lot of middle-aged people pulling an all-nighter, including me. When I left around 5 a.m. to go home for a quick shower, I looked around the room. Four lawyers are typing away. One is sitting with his feet on another chair snoring. Later, the brief goes out the door. Kendall Coffey and I are sitting alone in the now quiet room and Kendall says: `You know, this is sort of it. People will start trickling back to their homes and practices. This will be the end of what we’re doing. We’ll see each other in courtrooms and airports. We will remember each other and this time. But we’re coming to the end of a rare and precious moment in time. And it’s all something we shared together.’” Celebrity Lawyers on Live TV While legal troops toiled in trenches behind the scenes, Tallahassee Greenberg Traurig lawyer Barry Richard was out front and center, gaining celebrity status as he appeared in as many as five courtrooms in a single day, representing George W. Bush in more than 46 cases, as well as making oral arguments at the Supreme Court. “It was strange,” Richard said. “I said to my wife, `One day I feel like I’ll wake up and suddenly say, “Boy, was that a strange dream!”‘ Most of the time I was too busy just doing what a trial lawyer does to focus on the significance of what was happening.” He stayed so busy and focused on leading a team of 50 lawyers, he said, that “I never had the opportunity to watch TV or read the newspaper to know what the exposure was. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks afterwards, when I began to see copies of stories, and somebody sent me the “Nightline” and “Today Show” tapes, that’s when the extent hit me.” Greenberg Traurig’s marketing department in Miami kept track: Richard had 2,753 television “hits,” actual times his voice was heard on television, and 147 total hours of network coverage that included live trial work. He had 1,141 media print hits. And his total media exposure included cable networks, wire news services, the top 20 print media outlets and all major networks. During the frenzied six weeks of constant litigation, one day Richard agreed to wear a wire so that his every word could be heard unless he switched off a little knob so he could confer confidentially with his partners, for an ABC “Nightline” story. Even the minutia of personal grooming couldn’t escape the public eye. Newsweek reported that when talk-show host Don Imus dubbed him, “Little Richard,” for the rock-and-roll performer’s pompadour, the next day Richard took a seat in his barber’s chair. With his reputation as a great First Amendment lawyer, Richard sympathized with journalists scurrying around for tips, but he found it a bit unnerving to walk down a street and have hundreds of people swarming him for a quote or a photo op. When he moved to the other side of the street, so did the crowd. “I like reporters, and we get along fine,” Richard said. “But it got to the point where I actually couldn’t leave the office.” He’s proud to say that except for two nights, he was able to rush home in time to tuck into bed his 2-1/2-year-old twins, Jonathan and Jeremy. “In terms of the litigation itself, it was unlike anything I’ve ever done. Later, when I look back, I just can’t believe it,” Richard said. “In terms of impact, it was the biggest case of my career. But the only thing about it that was unusual was the number of cases and the rapidity in which they were being moved along. The issues were no different than any other case. They were not, in themselves, that complex. The actual work was not that unique. It was the clients and the ultimate ramifications, and the surrounding circumstances, and the media and the demonstrators that made it so different.” Fan mail poured in more than 2,000 e-mails and letters. “And only five of them were negative,” Richard said. “Some were funny. One was from someone who said he hadn’t seen me since high school. Many were from Democrats hoping I would lose, but saying I was doing a good job.” After oral arguments at the Florida Supreme Court Nov. 21, George W. called him at home and said: “Keep up the good work.” Later, when a stranger remarked: “It must have been hell,” Richard replied: “Actually, it was like Disney World. I enjoyed it.” So did Dexter Douglass, one of the big guns on the other side of the courtroom, who once served as general counsel to the late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and chaired the state’s second Constitution Revision Commission in 1997. “It was a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lawyer,” Douglass said. “I’ve been in a lot of trials in the 46 years I’ve practiced that were very intense, fast-moving and required long hours. But this one took the cake.” And the day he turned 71, Douglass was in trial. “I had to look at Judge Sanders Sauls on my birthday,” Douglass said, letting out a big laugh. “Best birthday I ever had, doing what I love to do with great people for a good cause.” There was no panic riding the ups and downs. “We’d win, and three hours later we were losing. We just went back to work. We had it right in our grasp and away it went. But that’s not nearly as bad as being the lawyer for someone you think is innocent who gets convicted. That is a real crusher. Or to lose a big civil case about a personal injury that’s devastating for a client that’s much more crushing than this.” When the Gore legal team set up an office in his building, Douglass said, “I walked around and acted like I was in charge.” But he said he agreed totally that Boies should be the lead counsel and make most of the public presentations. “Remarkably, the large egos of fine lawyers did not interfere with the case,” Douglass said. “At the outset, I did a lot of the trial. As the trial went on, I thought it’d be better to keep Boies up front. He was probably most outstanding of anybody in the trial. Our styles are so different. He’s very precise. I tend to be, as the Northern press calls it, `down-home.’” Several times he appeared on “Larry King Live,” and he got a lot of public feedback, not all positive. “Some guy told me I was one of the most un-American people he’d ever seen. I told him I thought he just hadn’t seen many,” Douglass said. But the funniest moment, Douglass said, was while he was in court and on television and some guy called his home and spoke to his wife of 45 years, Terese. “I’m calling to tell you your husband is one of the sorriest excuses for a lawyer, making such outrageous statements about George Bush. What do you think about that?” And Terese Douglass calmly answered: “Yes, sir, I agree with you.” Douglass got a big kick out of that, when his wife told him: “That’s the way to get rid of those nuts. When I agree with them, they think they have the wrong number.” A Jarring Judicial Experience “The experience of a lifetime and hopefully the only one like it in this lifetime!” is how Second Judicial Circuit Judge Nikki Clark, a member of the Florida Bar Foundation Board of Directors, described her role presiding over the Seminole County case involving absentee ballots. Lawyers for the Democrats alleged elections officials improperly allowed Republican workers to add missing information to hundreds of absentee ballot applications for Republicans. Kicking off her unprecedented experience was the motion from lawyers for the Republicans asking her to recuse herself, fearing she might not be objective because Gov. Jeb Bush didn’t appoint her to the First District Court of Appeal. She said she was not persuaded, stayed on the case and ended up ruling against the Democrats. As soon as the 5-foot tall woman sat in her judge’s chair, she was struck with the momentousness of the case before her, how every word she uttered was broadcast live, how every gesture and grimace was frozen in time by the incessant clicking of cameras. “But after the first 15 minutes, I couldn’t think about the press or the people or the attention, because the case was so intense and so fast-moving,” Judge Clark recalled. “It was really easy to put all that to the side and concentrate 100 percent on the case. And there was lots to read and digest and make sense of,” Judge Clark said. “The intensity of it all actually made it easier to get through it, because there was so little time to think about the pressure and the intensity of it all.” Like everyone involved in the presidential election contest, she was putting in 16-hour days. “I didn’t know what my daughter looked like for a week and a half,” Judge Clark said. After a long day in court, she was delivered to her front door by a sheriff’s deputy. When Jesse Jackson walked into her courtroom, her focus was mostly on shushing spectators all abuzz. She made sure that some of the seats reserved for the press went to several kids she knows and mentors, including her 17-year-old daughter Kianna Ferguson. “I didn’t want that part of history to go down just for the press,” Judge Clark said. After court, she held a little Q-and-A session with the teens. “They found it to be a wonderful experience, and two of the kids told me they are planning a legal career,” she said. Total strangers called her at all times of the day and night just to give their opinion. “I heard from some very unpleasant people,” she said. “One guy in particular was way too weird.” That’s when Judge Clark, after being on the bench for more than seven years without a problem, was forced to switch to an unlisted phone number. The barrage of calls and e-mails included those from people she hadn’t heard from in 30 years, to the daily pep talks from her oldest sister who was constantly asked by family and friends, “Is that our little Nikki?” Then, there were the people who messaged her to declare: “You need a makeover!” After the case was finally over, the first African-American and the first woman named to the circuit bench in the Second Circuit, described the feeling as “relief and a sense of survival.” “I want to get a T-shirt that says, `I survived Election 2000,’” she said with a laugh. For Second Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, being assigned to preside over the biggest case of his career meant enduring an exhausting schedule. The first week of December, when he got the Martin County absentee ballot case, Judge Lewis was determined to keep his prior commitment to teach three classes at the circuit judges’ conference in Amelia Island. “I did a few hearings from the conference by telephone,” Judge Lewis said, describing how judges at the conference gathered around the TV to watch Judge Sauls preside over his trial. One thing Judge Lewis said he learned is that a judge is “considered a hero or a goat depending on the result of the ruling.. . . If you are an ardent partisan, you think everyone else is. You view everything with suspicion and don’t look at the analysis, and that’s very troubling for the long-term effectiveness of the court.” With that in mind, Judge Lewis said he wished he had explained himself better in how he reached his second ruling. “It just reinforces that a judge should explain a ruling in a way that both parties understand why, so it seems reasonable, even if people disagree. You don’t want someone to think of us as political hacks,” Judge Lewis said. E-mails and letters, he said, ranged from “You’re an American hero” to “I hope you burn in hell and have a slow, miserable life until then.” His stint presiding over the big case included a glowing editorial in the New York Times calling his November 14 order “a model of common sense” when he said the secretary of state could not arbitrarily refuse to accept recount results that arrived after her hard-and-fast deadline. “People would send me pictures of me in the newspaper in Tokyo. You realize that everybody is looking at what you’re doing. . . It’s certainly unprecedented. Something like this will never happen again in my lifetime.” One extra benefit from all the media exposure was that a Baltimore Sun reporter actually read Judge Lewis’ novel, Conflict of Interest, published in 1997, a mystery about an alcoholic lawyer, and gave it a pretty decent review. Any plans to craft a novel about political intrigue swirling around a close presidential election? Judge Lewis said with a laugh: “No, no, I won’t be writing a novel about it. It’s not my type.” Parting Thoughts The legal experience of a lifetime left many Florida lawyers waxing philosophical. Mitchell Berger, who served as a chief trial strategist for Gore, said, “The thing I took away from it was how precious the right to vote is and how important it is that we honor and cherish that right.” For Judge Burton, the silver lining in the storm of protests was how deeply people cared, even young people so often branded as apathetic. Outside the highest court in the land, he was both amazed and heartened to see college students curled up in sleeping bags to save their place in line, not for tickets to a rock concert, but for a chance to witness history in the making. For 27-year-old Chanta Combs, part of the Bush team working on the military ballot issues, it was a test of her six-month marriage to a staunch Democrat, lawyer Bert Combs, whose uncle was once a Democrat governor of Kentucky. “I understand now about not talking about politics with family,” Chanta Combs said. “I really did get to see the Constitution come to life,” she said. “It was such a historic and monumental thing, and the whole world was watching. We spent so many hours in the office that we took it for granted that you knew more than the rest of the world knew and what the rest of the world wanted to know.” Having graduated from Florida State University’s College of Law a mere two years ago, she said with a sigh: “Anything less than fighting for the presidency seems mundane. The next 40 years will seem incredibly boring.” February 1, 2001 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular Newslast_img

Tipp minors lose out to Cork

first_imgPhoto © Tipperary GAA The Cork full forward trio of Mark Cronin, Damien Gore and Cathail O Mahony scoring 3-13 between themAfterwards Tipp manager Matt O Doherty paid tribute to last nights opponents saying they were physically strong.However he said the Premier hadn’t performed as well as they can.Reigning champions Kerry are through to the semi finals after Peter Keane’s side comfortably saw off Clare 2-16 to 1-6 in Tralee.At the Gaelic Grounds Limerick were 1-10 to 0-9 winners over Waterford.Clare will play Waterford now and the winners will meet Tipp in a playoff on the 26th of April. A strong Cork team were comprehensive 3-21 to 1-8 winners over Tipp in the Munster minor football championship quarter finals last night.The Rebels built up an early lead and went in 1-9 to 0-4 ahead at half time in Semple Stadium.Ryan Lambe from Clonmel Commercials hit 0- 3 on the night for Tipp while Adam McGrath of Galtee Rovers bagged a late consolation goal for the home team.last_img read more