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Continued: High-profile lawyers climbing into the ring

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: November 15, 2008 - 10:52 PM

Now, the lawyers step to the fore.

With the recount in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race set to begin this week, lawyers for Norm Coleman and Al Franken will be stepping out of the background, beginning to play a more central role in the battle.

What has so far been a trickle of lawsuits from both sides is expected to become a torrent, whether before the recount is finished or in its aftermath.

While most of the attorneys will toil in anonymity, both teams are led by major political players with deep DFL and Republican roots.

Here, briefly, are the four who have the highest profiles.

FRITZ KNAAK, COLEMAN CAMPAIGN

A partner in a Vadnais Heights law firm, Knaak is best known for his tenure in the state Senate, where he served for a decade, rising as high as assistant majority leader.

Since leaving the Legislature in 1993, Knaak has remained a prominent Republican player, routinely writing newspaper op-eds promoting the party's positions.

He also has contributed $7,149 to Republican candidates and independent party funds since 1997.

Knaak is no stranger to election controversies, although not on the scale of the current one. Six years ago, he represented the losing candidate in a state Senate race that was decided by five votes, having been ultimately decided by a judge.

TONY TRIMBLE, COLEMAN CAMPAIGN

Trimble has had a lower public profile, having never served in elective office, but has been more of a financial heavy hitter for the GOP, donating $79,000 to the party and its candidates since 1997.

He began working for Coleman's campaign on Election Night, even before it was clear how razor-thin the margin in the race would be. "It'd be the Super Bowl of political law or election law," he said at the time of the Senate showdown.

Trimble has repeatedly been in the legal trenches on behalf of the party, representing it in 2002, when Tim Pawlenty's gubernatorial campaign ran afoul of state ethics rules.

More relevant, perhaps, to the Senate recount, was Trimble's representation of Republican congressional candidate Mark Kennedy, who beat Democratic incumbent David Minge in 2000 after Minge dropped a recount effort.

DAVID LILLEHAUG, FRANKEN CAMPAIGN

Former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Lillehaug has long been an eminence-cum-strategist in the DFL Party.

He has been an adviser and mentor to many of the party's candidates for years, going back to when he served as an aide to Walter Mondale.

Six years ago, Lillehaug had a central role in the re-election campaign of Sen. Paul Wellstone and shifted his efforts to Mondale's campaign after Wellstone was killed in a plane crash days before the election.

Lillehaug has donated $32,525 to Democratic candidates and the party since 1997.

His recent legal work hasn't been confined to partisan politics; he represented churches that successfully challenged the state's conceal-and-carry handgun law.

MARC ELIAS, FRANKEN CAMPAIGN

Elias is largely unknown to Minnesotans, having made his first public appearance on Franken's behalf just Thursday. But he has an imposing legal pedigree.

Based in Washington, he specializes in "representing public elected officials, candidates, parties, corporations and PACs in connection with campaign finance [and] ethics," according to his law firm.

He has represented the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and was general counsel for Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004. This year, he served in the same capacity for Sen. Chris Dodd's short-lived presidential campaign.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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