It appears that five of the state Supreme Court's seven justices will hear Republican Norm Coleman's appeal of the trial court verdict that said Democrat Al Franken finished 312 votes ahead in the U.S. Senate race.
The high court issued its first document in the case on Thursday, a routine order permitting out-of-state Franken lawyers Marc Elias and Kevin Hamilton to take part in the appeal. The order mentions that neither Chief Justice Eric Magnuson nor Justice G. Barry Anderson participated in the decision.
Based on past practice, that's a good sign that the two, who sat on the state Canvassing Board that oversaw the recount, have taken themselves off the appeal, just as they did on previous recount motions that came before the court.
The order also appears to put to rest speculation that three justices who, before they became judges, made political contributions to Coleman or his opponents might take themselves off the case.
Before becoming judges, Justice Lorie Gildea contributed to Coleman's 1998 gubernatorial race; Justice Christopher Dietzen gave to Coleman's Senate campaigns in 2001 and 2004, and Justice Helen Meyer contributed to several DFL candidates, including Coleman opponent Paul Wellstone in 2001. Most legal experts said they don't think that donations given years ago pose a conflict of interest, and some have characterized the court as non-ideological. Justices Alan Page and Paul Anderson are the other members of the court.
In other recount news, Franken's lawyers have sought more than $16,000 from the Coleman campaign for a three-day delay attributed to Coleman's lawyers during the trial.
Franken attorney David Lillehaug submitted an affidavit saying that six lawyers and a paralegal spent 39 hours preparing for the testimony of Minneapolis election judge Pamela Howell. A witness for Coleman, Howell said she had heard another judge say that some votes were counted twice. But Coleman's attorneys failed to disclose documents, causing breaks in her testimony until Franken's side could be brought up to speed.
The three-judge panel fined Coleman $7,500 over the incident and last week also awarded Franken "reasonable costs and attorneys' fees" connected with the delay.
Kevin Duchschere • 651-292-0164