Tags: franken | coleman | recount

Expert: Franken-Coleman Panel Looks Balanced

Tuesday, 13 Jan 2009 01:38 PM

By David A. Patten

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page has struck a delicate balance in his appointments of three judges who will decide whether GOP incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman or challenger Al Franken will represent the state in the U.S. Senate.

Page had the option of presenting each campaign with a list of jurists under consideration so they could strike names they didn’t like. Instead Page, who during his NFL days was known for making quick work of opposing team’s quarterbacks, cut to the chase and simply named the three judges who will hear the case.

Page may be looking for a way to please everyone. Of the three judges who will hear the case, which in Minnesota is called an “election contest,” one is a GOP-appointed judge, one is a Democrat-appointed judge, and the third was placed on the bench by an independent.

That ideological balance may help keep the panel focused on facts and law rather than politics. Sarah Cherry, an expert on election law who has been observing the Minnesota recount closely, applauded Page’s judicial choices.

“I’ve seen nothing so far indicating partisan reputations for any of these judges,” Cherry tells Newsmax. “They do mostly criminal and family work in their home chambers.”

Franken currently leads the race by 225 votes. Coleman supporters have claimed the election was “stolen” during the recount process, and contend that Franken has only an “artificial lead.”

Coleman’s attorneys want the panel to block the tabulation of votes that may have been counted twice and have identified 654 ballots they say should be counted in areas that tend to favor Coleman.

Franken’s lawyers appear to be trying to make a Franken victory appear inevitable, going so far Monday as to suggest that the state’s Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, certify Franken the winner in contradiction to state law. That request was promptly denied.

The members of the three-member judicial panel are:

Judge Elizabeth Hayden, Stearns County – Appointed to office by former Democratic Gov. Rudy Perpich, Hayden is a former assistant attorney for Stearns County. She has a strong background in criminal law and over 20 years’ experience on the bench. She is 62.

Assistant Chief Judge Kurt Marben, Pennington County – Appointed by Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2000, Marben serves a county of fewer than 14,000 residents in northwest Minnesota. Marben’s appointment followed two decades of work in private practice. He is 56 years old.

Assistant Chief Judge Denise Reilly, Hennepin County – Reilly was appointed to the bench in 1997 by former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor, and has an extensive record serving on the boards of religious and other charitable groups. She is 55.

One of the first decisions facing the panel is how much more paperwork it will demand from city and county election officials who have been recounting votes for more than two months now. Several election officials are already complaining they have been asked to submit tens of thousands of pages of additional documentation to the two campaigns.

In a related development, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune surveyed several election officials who reviewed their rulings regarding the 654 absentee ballots that the Coleman campaign says were improperly rejected.

The newspaper reported that of seven jurisdictions, only one – Mower County – had identified a single ballot that should have been counted and wasn’t. Coleman’s attorneys continue to voice confidence that more Coleman ballots will be uncovered, however.

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