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Recount trial gets underway next week

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State Election Director Gary Poser
Minnesota State Election Director Gary Poser oversaw the Senate recount in Wright County in the final days.
MPR Photo/Ambar Espinoza

A three-judge panel has set a timeline for Minnesota's Senate election contest. 

Earlier today, attorneys for Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken met privately with a three-judge panel to iron out a schedule for the Senate contest trial. 

The order says both sides must identify to the court all of their experts by next Tuesday afternoon, and the trial will begin Jan. 26. It does not indicate how long the trial might last.

The panel will meet next Wednesday, Jan. 21, to consider Democrat Al Franken's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

"Since there are multiple issues in this case, you pretty much have to know what issue you're going to try first."

      The case revolves around the razor-thin U.S. Senate race that had Franken ahead of Coleman by 225 votes after the recount of about 2.9 million votes.

      Coleman's lawsuit raises issues about how the statewide recount was conducted.

  The timing of the case is important because Minnesota could be short a senator until it is resolved. The state's top officials won't issue an election certificate until then, although Franken has sued separately to force the issuance of one.

      Coleman's campaign has pushed to conduct a trial in stages, taking disputed matters one step at a time. Franken wants it done more quickly.

      Franken lawyer David Lillehaug said the campaign stressed to the judges that an expeditious schedule is essential because "Minnesota has an empty seat in the United States Senate."

      Coleman's lawyers say the process should be split up so the judges can concentrate more fully on each issue being raised: how to handle rejected absentee ballots; what to do about allegations of double-counted votes in some precincts; and how to handle cases where ballots not counted on Nov. 4 turned up later or went missing during the recount.

      "Since there are multiple issues in this case, you pretty much have to know what issue you're going to try first," said Joe Friedberg, who is the newest face on the Republican's legal team.

      Friedberg is involved in another legal matter linked to Coleman. He is a local defense attorney for businessman Nasser Kazeminy, who is being sued in Texas over an alleged scheme to funnel money from a company to an insurance company that employs Coleman's wife Laurie. 

The lawsuit claims that Kazeminy was attempting to direct money to the Colemans, an allegation the couple and the businessman strongly deny.       

  Meanwhile Friday, a lawsuit filed by dozens of voters who had their absentee ballots denied was assigned to the three-judge panel rather than the Minnesota Supreme Court, where the suit started.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)