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The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Thursday's flurry of legal developments in the Elian Gonzalez saga illustrate well just how frenzied and dicey even the simplest legal case can become when it heads down the homestretch toward final resolution.

For the Justice Department, for Elian's father Juan Gonzalez, for the Miami relatives of the little boy, the day was alternately good, bad and ugly.

Here's the legal perspective from the Miami family's point of view.

Obviously, what was good news for the Miami family on this day was bad news for Juan Gonzalez and the Justice Department and vice versa.

First, the good news. A federal appeals court gave Elian's Miami relatives a victory—albeit perhaps a very temporary one—when it ordered federal authorities not to do anything about Elian until the family's injunction request could be fully briefed and argued by the parties and then digested by the judges.

The very act of filing the injunction request, it appears, served to buy the family a few more hours, or perhaps a few more days, before the 11th Circuit decides whether legally and factually Elian deserves to stay in this country pending a final resolution of all of his appeals issues.

Indeed, despite what you may have heard coming out of Miami late Thursday, the appeals court has not ruled at all on the merits of the family's injunction request.

All it has done is ordered the status quo to be maintained until the Justice Department can file its written response to the injunction request Friday morning.

Then, the family may be allowed to reply to that response. And then the appellate judges will decide whether the temporary restraining order now in place in the case should be maintained or dissolved.

That decision could come as early as Friday morning or it could come over the weekend (sometimes judges work overtime, too!) or it even could come early next week.

And until it comes down, Elian will remain in Miami.

Now the bad news for Elian's local relatives. Their state court gambit failed miserably when a state judge on Thursday flatly and with no minced words dismissed their attempts to hold hearings relating to child custody issues.

The family had hoped that they could use a state court and state law to make an end-run around the federal laws at play in this case, laws which clearly indicate that Elian must be returned to his father pronto.

This decision—perhaps lost a bit in the tumult over the federal case- likely means that if the Miami family is unsuccessful in pursuing its federal claims it won't eventually be able to stop Elian's departure to Cuba with some later state proceeding.

Thursday's state court decision, in other words, forecloses another legal option for Elian's local family.

And, finally, there was the ugly, a nasty war of words between Juan Gonzalez's attorney, Greg Craig, and an attorney representing Elian's Miami family.

Perhaps such sparring is inevitable in a high-profile, high-emotion ase such as this one. But you would think that the lawyers on both sides of this particular case would go out of their way to act as voices of reason to their stressed-out clients.

After all, if the lawyers are shouting at each other, imagine what Juan Gonzalez thinks of Elian's Miami relatives and vice versa.

And to that end, Attorney General Janet Reno deserves a bit of credit for at least trying on Thursday to cool everyone down a bit. She urged calm and control and reason, and I guess we'll know sooner rather than later if anyone heard her plea.


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