Judges reject Franken complaint over trial tedium

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) âÄî The judges in Minnesota’s Senate trial rejected a complaint from Democrat Al Franken on Monday over the time-consuming way Republican Norm Coleman is pursuing his case, but said they would meet with both sides to explore ways to go faster. Coleman’s attorneys are working through about 4,700 rejected absentee ballots one by one, presenting evidence they hope will convince the three-judge panel that the ballots should be added to a race that Franken leads by 225 votes. It’s a tedious process expected to take weeks. Spurred by the judges, lawyers for both sides said Monday they jointly agreed to stop pursuing votes from one category of rejected absentee, those that had been received after Election Day. But Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said that wouldn’t significantly shrink the pile of 4,700 ballots. Earlier in the day, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg was ready to start questioning Dakota County’s elections manager on rejected absentees from that county when Franken attorney David Lillehaug objected that Friedberg wasn’t following trial rules. Lillehaug said Coleman has failed to provide his opponent with specific arguments in advance for why individual ballots should be accepted. “We don’t find out until direct examination âÄî and they don’t seem to, either,” Lillehaug said. He called it a violation of standard trial procedure in which Franken’s attorneys would find out beforehand what Coleman plans to argue. Lillehaug pointed out that as Friedberg has questioned county election officials, he has often withdrawn some ballots on the fly if it’s obvious the rejection was valid. He said Coleman should have to weed out those ballots in advance, and that doing so would make the trial proceed faster. The judges have set out two categories where they’ll consider counting rejected absentees: those where it appeared the voter met the legal requirements, and those where they might have run afoul of the law through no fault of their own. Coleman’s attorneys say about 3,100 of their ballots fall in the first category, and about 1,600 fall in the second. But Lillehaug complained that Coleman’s attorneys aren’t saying in detail why the ballots qualify for one of those classifications. “It’s why, after two weeks, we’re only through part of Ramsey, Washington, Anoka, and little Pine County,” Lillehaug argued. That leaves Coleman’s attorneys 83 more counties to get through. Friedberg countered that Coleman had wanted to argue for ballots in several broad categories. That plan fell apart when, in the trial’s first week, Franken objected to Coleman using pen-marked photocopies of the ballots as evidence. “I would still like to go back and do this category by category âÄî we could do it in 10 percent of the time,” Friedberg said. “I do not have any great desire to go county by county.” After meeting privately, the judges overruled the objection. But Judge Kurt Marben urged the lawyers to continue discussions aimed at “a more expedient way to proceed with the evidence in this case.” After that, Friedberg began the ballot-by-ballot review with Dakota County’s Kevin Boyle that lasted until the end of the day.