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Jax Daily Record Friday, May 13, 200512:00 PM EST

'Pro bono' becomes $2.2 million

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by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

In 2001, the American Association of People with Disabilities filed suit against the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office over voting machines which, in essence, allow blind people to vote without the assistance of anyone.

Four years later, the suit has endured several decisions (including dismissals and appeals), judges (one has even passed away), many lawyers and the passage of Florida state legislation which requires each county in Florida to install such machines in one of every five precincts by January.

The legislation should also make any lawsuit related to the machines, or lack of, a moot point. However, a change of heart by the attorneys representing AAPD vs. the local elections office is exactly why the case is now on appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

“The real issue at this point in the case, is the so-called pro bono lawyers who are involved,” said Ernest Muller, an attorney with the Office of General Counsel, who is handling the case.

Muller said the Washington, D.C. firm of Howrey, Simon, Arnold & White, LLP agreed to take the case on a pro bono basis in 2001 and assigned Richard Ripley, Danielle Foley, Vincent Verrocchio, Ari Rothman and R. William Sigler to the case. Muller insists the only reason the suit still exists is so the attorneys representing AAPD can collect $2.2 million in legal fees that have amassed.

“They want $2.2 million in legal fees after they agreed to take the case pro bono. The machines are only going to cost us $1.1 million,” said Muller. “The lawyer bill is bigger than the remedy.”

Muller said he plans to file a motion in the next few days explaining to the court that by July 1 the City will be past the procurement stage of purchasing 57 (there are 285 precincts in Duval County) of the State-mandated machines and in the purchasing phase. And, because the City is going to comply with the legislation by the deadline, the case should be dismissed.

“The bottom line is the remedy is going to happen in any case, and soon,” said Muller, admitting that the City could lose the appeal which wouldn’t affect the purchase of the machines, but rather just add to the tab. “If they win, we would have to litigate how much we would pay them.”

Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland inherited the problem from Bill Scheu, who inherited it from John Stafford (Scheu recently served as interim elections chief after Stafford resigned due to health issues). Holland would like to see the matter wrapped up soon because his office has to pay the OGC for legal representation.

“This litigation has gone on for some time and it is my desire to have an acceptable resolution as soon as possible,” said Holland in a letter to

General Counsel Rick Mullaney. Holland added the imminent purchase of the high-tech voting machines makes the suit moot.

The Washington law firm did not return telephone calls regarding

this story.

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