A Florida judge on Monday dealt a stunning blow to Al Gore's White House hopes, denying in its entirety his challenge to the state's presidential election, including a crucial request for hand recounts of thousands of disputed ballots.
"The court finds that the plaintiffs have failed to carry the requisite burden of proof," said Leon County Circuit Court Judge Sanders Sauls, reading his decision to a packed courtroom.
"The judgement shall be and hereby is entered that plaintiffs shall take nothing by this action and the defendants may go hence without delay," Sauls said in the hearing that was carried live on US television networks.
Gore's legal team filed an immediate appeal of the decision with the Florida appeals court asking that it be sent to the state Supreme Court.
In his decision, Sauls refused to order hand counts of some 13,000 contested votes from Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties but Gore lawyers were expected to file an immediate appeal with the Florida Supreme Court.
In addition to denying the recounts, Sauls also ruled against a Gore challenge in a third county, agreeing with lawyers for George W. Bush on nearly every point they had made in their closing arguments late Sunday.
The judge could have granted some parts of the Gore complaint while rejecting others.
Sauls accepted Bush's argument that the Gore team had not produced any proof that alleged problems with Florida's punch-card ballot system had altered the result of the election as the Republicans argued.
Sauls had delayed an expected announcement of his decision in order to review an Earlier, US Supreme Court ruling that threw Gore's challenge into question.
That ruling had sent back to the Florida Supreme Court an order forcing state officials to certify election results past a deadline set by the state legislature but there was no indication that the federal court's opinion had affected Sauls' ruling.
Gore will now take his case to the state high court in his quest to have the some 3,300 disputed ballots in Palm Beach and about 9,000 from Miami-Dade manually recounted.
His lawyers believe that such a tally will overcome the certified state result that declared Bush the winner of the November 7 election by a mere 537 votes.
Should the Florida high court refuse to accept or deny the Gore appeal, his bid for the White House will effectively be over.
Asked specifically whether Gore would concede, his lead lawyer David Boies, said: "Whoever wins the Florida Supreme Court, we will accept that."
"They won, we lost. We are appealing. This will be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court and I think that will be the end of the battle."
However, there are now three separate cases set for trial in the Leon County Circuit Court that could invalidate several thousand absentee ballots in three counties, actions that if ordered by the judges would give Gore the edge.
The Gore campaign is not a party to any of those three suits -- TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )