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Key figures remember 2000 recount, a decade later

TALLAHASSSEE

Ten years later, Barry Richard is still experiencing his 15 minutes of fame.

Richard is the silver-haired lawyer who successfully argued George W. Bush's side in the presidential recount that transfixed the world a decade ago this week, and next week, and the week after that ...

The airwaves were dominated by manual recounts, citizen protests, allegations of voter fraud, over-votes and under-votes and standards for voter intent.

Ground zero for it all was Tallahassee.

Reviewing those historic events this week, Richard delivered a presentation with snazzy graphics of dimpled chads, a ticking clock and the requisite sound bite of then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris certifying the Florida result in favor of Bush over Al Gore, a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision on Dec. 12, 2000.

"For 36 days, Tallahassee was transformed from a quiet North Florida town to the center of the world," Richard said.

Others who played a role in the Bush v. Gore epic spoke at an evening seminar, sponsored by the Village Square. They were ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, such as Circuit Judges Nikki Clark and Terry Lewis and Craig Waters, longtime spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court.

Jorge Labarga, a Florida Supreme Court justice who was a Palm Beach County circuit judge in 2000, mistakenly believed he had escaped the "nightmare" of being assigned an election lawsuit by going to lunch the day after the election.

He got the case anyway. So many other judges recused themselves, Labarga was basically the last judge standing.

He refused to order a new election to rectify Palm Beach County's confusing "butterfly ballot" layout that handed more than 5,000 votes to Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan that were largely intended for Gore.

The case, like most others, was quickly appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ordered a rental truck to transport hundreds of thousands of disputed ballots to Tallahassee.

"The happiest day in my life, next to the day when I married my wonderful wife, was when I saw that yellow Ryder truck heading north on the Turnpike," Labarga said.

Waters, the public face of the state's high court, became a TV fixture and said his role evolved from "really bad luck."

A lawyer and former reporter, Waters protested Chief Justice Charles Wells' decision, recommended by the court's marshal, to seal off the court from the horde of media people who had descended on the capital.

"I don't think this looks good," Waters told Wells. "It's going to be used against us."

To rectify things, Waters said, his boss told him to station himself on the courthouse steps and talk to the press, where he was besieged by hot TV lights and big boom mikes equipped with puffy windscreens so large they looked like "gerbils," Waters said.

Recalling a light banter with reporters trapped in Tallahassee over Thanksgiving, Waters said he had hoped to get away for the holiday at his Aunt Ethel's family reunion in rural Elberta, Ala.

"She was hunted down by television stations," Waters said, "and the Miami Herald published her Thanksgiving menu."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Key figures remember 2000 recount, a decade later 11/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 12, 2010 10:19pm]
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