In terms of their legal careers, it is tempting to think of David Boies and Sander Sauls as the hare and the tortoise. Mr Boies is the crack New York litigator, one of America's highest profile courtroom lawyers - with fees to match. Flush from his defeat of software giant Microsoft in a recent anti-trust case, Mr Boies was hired to help Al Gore contest the United States presidential election. He is, it is often said, a lawyer who always wins. Judge Sauls has spent his career in Crawfordville, a one-stoplight town in the swamps of the Florida panhandle. A busy week might involve a divorce dispute or perhaps a local robbery. With his slow southern delivery, one-liners and withering glances over the top of his granny glasses, Judge Sauls is not someone Mr Boies will quickly forget. On Monday, in the most blistering of terms, he delivered something Mr Boies has rarely had to face - a clear, unambiguous defeat. In trying to contest the certified Florida election results that gave George W. Bush a 537-vote win, the Gore legal team had failed to meet the 'burden' of evidence required, Judge Sauls said, as he rocked gently in his large leather chair at the Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee. 'The court further finds and concludes the evidence does not establish any illegality, dishonesty, gross negligence, improper influence, coercion or fraud in the balloting and counting processes,' he said. Defeat ringing in their ears, the Boies' team is already seeking to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court to keep Mr Gore's White House hopes alive. For Judge Sauls, his place in history is confirmed. Over the weekend hearings he proved a thorny opponent, refusing to change his unhurried, cool demeanour simply because all eyes of the nation were on his courtroom. 'With all these motions before me, you are making me feel as if I am being nibbled to death by a duck,' he said at one point. Several commentators have noted his humour seemed to depart whenever Mr Boies, whose famed photographic recall has embarrassed far more powerful judges, rose to speak. Judge Sauls repeatedly cut off his tough cross-examinations and ignored objections. At other moments, he described certain Gore points as 'irrelevant'. Those familiar with his style stressed that Judge Sauls, a deeply conservative southern Democrat, was simply being himself, despite the fact that he has found himself at the epicentre of America's electoral crisis. 'That's Sauls . . . unflappable, calm and wry,' one Tallahassee official said. 'He approaches all cases with the same integrity no matter who is in front of him . . . fat reputations and all the publicity don't mean a thing.' Speaking after the judgment, Mr Boies appeared relieved that he could now work his magic higher up the system. 'We are a step closer to a conclusion,' he said later. Democrat supporters would say that, courtesy of Judge Sauls, it is a step in the wrong direction.