Judge denies county attorney’s intervention in abortion case

People gather in a group for a rally outside.
Thousands of abortion rights supporters gather outside Saint Paul College before marching to the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Ramsey County District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan has rejected an attempt by Traverse County Attorney Matthew Franzese to intervene in the case of Doe v. Minnesota, a high-profile case challenging many of the state’s abortion restrictions.

In July, Judge Gilligan ruled that many of those restrictions on abortion violate Minnesota’s constitution, including the mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that both parents be notified before a minor can get an abortion.

Franzese filed the motion to intervene after Attorney General Keith Ellison decided not to appeal the ruling. In a hearing on Aug. 19, Minneapolis attorney William Mohrman, who represented Franzese and the Thomas More Society, argued that the judge’s decision only applies in Ramsey County, creating confusion about if the decision applies in the state’s other 86 counties, and that he has an interest in the case because Franzese is “charged with enforcing Minnesota state statutes.”

But Gilligan rejected the motion Tuesday, saying that the county attorney “failed to demonstrate entitlement to intervene.”

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One central issue was the timeliness of the case, since litigation over this suit began in 2019. In the order, Gilligan said that the issue at hand “would have been well-known years ago.”

“Instead of acting promptly to seek intervention, Franzese waited until the litigation was over to assert his stated interest. He waited until three years of extensive discovery and litigation had passed, four dispositive motions were briefed, argued and decided by this court, and several appeals of various decisions of this court were addressed by appellate courts, prior to seeking intervention,” the order reads. “Franzese has offered no reason for his delay in seeking intervention. Franzese is too late.”

The judge also ruled that the Traverse County Attorney had not demonstrated sufficient interest in the case to justify intervention and rejected the argument over confusion about the ruling.

“This court took great pains to make its declaration that certain abortion laws were unconstitutional and that their enforcement was permanently enjoined,” the decision said. “Having questions or confusion about its effect and reach is not an interest in the subject of this action.”

That subject being the abortion restrictions, said Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice, which originally brought the suit.

“We’ve had a number of intervenors who've tried to step in, and they haven't said, ‘Hey, I have an interest in the subject matter of the lawsuit which is these abortion restrictions, and so I should be allowed to intervene,’” she said. “[They’ve] said different things. You know, ‘I have an interest in the state raising a particular defense’ or I have an interest in … things other than abortion.”

Representatives for Franzese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read the court order here