Panel hears motion in Coleman-Franken dispute

A three judge panel heard arguments this afternoon on Democrat Al Franken's move to dismiss Republican Norm Coleman's Senate election contest.

It was the first time the panel held a public session and at times it seemed to offer a preview of the arguments that are likely to come up during the trial.

The Franken campaign brought the motion to dismiss, because it says Coleman is asking the court to go beyond its authority.

Franken attorney David Berman of Seattle told the panel that Minnesota law is clear - the only issue the panel may decide is which party received the highest number of votes legally cast in the election. He said the court should not delve into a fishing expedition led by the Coleman campaign.

"No matter how much contestant wants to be senator, the interests of finality in a fair and complete recount and the necessity for this court to abide by its statutorily and constitutional boundaries simply leave the court with no discretion," said Berman. "[Coleman] can't be allowed to drag this proceeding on in the hopes that it will turn up something."

Coleman's attorney James Langdon disagreed. He said while speed is important, seating the person who received the most votes is even more important.

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Langdon said it is true that the panel will decide who received the most valid votes, but in order to do that it needs to review rejected absentee ballots, the possible double-counting of ballots, missing ballots and found ballots and rejected absentee ballots.

Hennepin County Judge Denise Reilly asked Langdon about rumors that Coleman attorneys were submitting boxes of additional briefs. Langdon said yes.

"We're not talking about 654 votes but 11,000. That, unfortunately, is why those briefs are coming in boxes, your honors," he said. "There are a lot of copies of rejected absentee ballot envelopes. Unfortunately, in this state the rejection rate was four times higher than it has ever been before."

It's unclear when the panel may rule on Franken's move to dismiss the case. The case is scheduled to go to trial next Monday morning.