|Published on Thursday, July 21, 2005 by the Miami Herald
Roberts Gave GOP Advice in 2000 Recount
John G. Roberts, President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, played a role in the chaotic, 36-day period following the disputed 2000 presidential election.
by Gary Fineout and Mary Ellen Klas
TALLAHASSEE -- U.S. Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts provided legal advice to Gov. Jeb Bush in the weeks following the November 2000 election as part of the effort to make sure the governor's brother won the disputed presidential vote.
Roberts, at the time a private attorney in Washington, D.C., came to Tallahassee to advise the state's Republican administration as it was trying to prevent a Democratic end-run that the GOP feared might give the election to Al Gore, sources told The Herald.
The maneuver, which the Democrats never attempted, might have kept the state from sending its list of official ''electors'' -- the Electoral College members who actually cast the votes that count -- to Congress and the National Archives.
If the names were not forwarded to Washington in a timely fashion, Republicans feared, Gore might be declared the winner because Florida's 25 electoral votes wouldn't be counted -- and the Democrat had garnered more electoral votes than George W. Bush in the rest of the country.
Roberts, himself a noted constitutional lawyer, and an unnamed law professor spent between 30 and 40 minutes talking to Bush in the governor's conference room, sources told The Herald.
Roberts' perceived partisanship during the recount has been enough for some Democrats to suggest that his nomination should be rejected by the U.S. Senate.
A spokesman for the governor confirmed Wednesday that Bush met with Roberts during the recount.
Roberts was ''one of several experts who came to Florida to share their ideas,'' said spokesman Jacob DiPietre. Roberts came ``at his own expense and met with Gov. Bush to share what he believed the governor's responsibilities were under federal law after a presidential election and a presidential election under dispute.''
The reason that Roberts was tapped: His connection to Dean Colson, a lawyer with the Miami firm of Colson Hicks Eidson. Colson had been a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist at the same time as Roberts in 1980 and was best man at Roberts' wedding. Brian Yablonski, who was then a top aide to the governor, worked at the Colson law firm before he went to work with Bush.
Since the recount, the ties between the firm where Roberts worked at the time, Hogan & Hartson, and Florida's government has grown deeper, as Hogan & Hartson has taken on several high-profile legal jobs in the state. The firm, for which Roberts worked from 1986 to 1989 and again from 1993 to 2003, represents and lobbies the Legislature for the Scripps Research Institute, which was given $500 million by state and local governments to set up an operation in Florida.
When Roberts came to Tallahassee in November 2000, he outlined for the governor the formal process that needed to be followed once the Florida popular vote was certified for Bush. At least one book documenting the period, Too Close to Call by journalist Jeffrey Toobin, said Bush strategists feared Gore attorneys would try to block the state from sending the ''certificate of ascertainment'' -- the list of electors -- to the National Archives. That book documents the elaborate lengths to which the governor's staff went to ensure that the certificate -- which said Bush had won -- was not subpoenaed by Democrats and stopped in its tracks.
DiPietre refused to answer questions on Roberts' role during the recount or why the governor talked to the attorney after his vow to recuse himself from the dispute.
`SALT ON THE WOUNDS'
U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Boca Raton Democrat, seized on Roberts' participation in the 2000 recount and suggested it should be grounds for rejecting his nomination. Wexler suggested the nomination ``threw salt on the wounds of the thousands of Floridians whose voting rights were disenfranchised during the 2000 election.
''Judge Roberts worked to ensure that George Bush would become president -- regardless of what the courts might decide,'' Wexler said, relying on news accounts that suggested Roberts gave the governor advice on how the state Legislature could name Bush the winner. ``And now he is being rewarded for that partisan service by being appointed to the nation's highest court.''
U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican who was state House Speaker during the tumultuous recount period, shot back that involvement in the recount effort would automatically disqualify a lot of lawyers.
That viewpoint was echoed by Benjamin Ginsberg, who was chief counsel for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign.
Roberts ''was not part of the Bush-Cheney operation,'' Ginsberg said. ``What's cool about that time in Florida is it attracted a lot of constitutional lawyers and they were brought in as fast as possible. It was Woodstock for constitutional lawyers.''
Both Feeney and one of the top lawyers for the Florida House of Representatives said Wednesday that the idea of having the GOP-controlled Legislature intervene in the recount controversy arose in the chamber itself, and that outside lawyers actually frowned on the notion.
Since the recount, the ties between Hogan & Hartson have deepened with Gov. Bush's administration. Carol Licko, the governor's first general counsel, became a partner with Hogan & Hartson after her Miami firm was acquired by the bigger Washington firm.
Hogan & Hartson, which didn't open its first Florida office until 2000, has handled several high profile cases for the state of Florida in the past five years, including representing the state in a water-rights dispute against Georgia and Alabama. Hogan & Hartson also represented the state in a court fight against Coastal Petroleum, a company that held leases to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Earlier this summer the state reached a settlement to buy back the leases from Coastal.
Herald staff writers Marc Caputo, Lesley Clark, Carol Rosenberg and Jay Weaver contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2005 Miami Herald