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Franken request rejected; trial judges named

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ST. PAUL - Norm Coleman went to the state's high court and Al Franken may do the same.

Franken's campaign hinted Monday it could go to the Minnesota Supreme Court to obtain an election certificate after a bipartisan pair of state officials refused to issue a signed certificate.

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A signed election certificate could allow Franken to be seated in the Senate, even as a lawsuit over the election result is just getting started.

The Franken campaign's election certificate request and the swift rejection by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie were among several developments in the unresolved Senate race.

A three-judge panel was appointed to oversee Coleman's challenge of the election result that gave Franken 225 more votes than the Republican. Campaign attorneys argued the merits of Coleman's lawsuit and the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party filed a complaint over Coleman's fund raising.

In a letter Monday morning, the Franken campaign asked Pawlenty and Ritchie to sign an election certificate for Franken, claiming federal law and the U.S. Constitution ordered that to occur a week after a state board certified the result.

Pawlenty, a Republican, and Ritchie, a Democrat, responded quickly in separate statements. Each said he must wait.

Pawlenty, from whose office an election certificate originates, said he had to follow state law.

"I am prohibited from issuing a certificate of election until the election contest in the courts has been resolved," he said.

Ritchie said even if Pawlenty issued a signed election certificate before the election lawsuit was resolved, he wouldn't sign it.

Franken campaign attorney Marc Elias said the state's high court has jurisdiction over the election certificate issue and he said the campaign would not "take any options off the table." The campaign refused to say whether it planned to go to the Supreme Court.

"Minnesota ought to have two senators pending the resolution of a contest," Elias said.

"Al Franken is not the winner," Coleman attorney Fritz Knaak said. "There is no winner and there won't be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed."

The campaigns are busy preparing for the upcoming trial, and three judges were appointed to the case Monday. Supreme Court Justice Alan Page chose judges who had been appointed to the bench by governors from three different political parties:

-- Pennington County Assistant Chief Judge Kurt Maben, a 1974 graduate of Bemidji State College and 2000 judicial appointee of then-Gov. Jesse Ventura of the Independence Party

-- Stearns County Judge Elizabeth Hayden, a 1986 judicial appointee of then-Gov. Rudy Perpich, a Democrat

-- Hennepin County Assistant Chief Judge Denise Reilly, a 1997 judicial appointee of then-Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican

The judges will preside over the trial that is expected to start within three weeks in St. Paul.

Coleman, who went to the Supreme Court for procedural issues during the recount but had to file his election lawsuit in Ramsey County, claims there were voter problems and ballot discrepancies on Election Day and during the recount.

Franken's campaign filed its response to the suit Monday, rejecting Coleman claims and arguing the case should be thrown out.

But Elias, Franken's attorney, also signaled that the campaign wants several hundred rejected ballots reconsidered during the upcoming trial. That includes 35 absentee ballots from Duluth - a Democrat-friendly city - that the Coleman campaign blocked from being counted.

Those ballots were rejected for undated or improperly dated signatures - which is not one of the reasons absentee ballots legally can be rejected, Elias said.

During the recount, the Minnesota Supreme Court gave the campaigns veto authority over which rejected absentee ballots would be counted. Each campaign blocked some ballots from being counted.

Also Monday, Minnesota Democrats filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission alleging Coleman's fund to cover recount expenses received illegal contributions.

Chairman Brian Melendez said the DFL Party believes Coleman may have accepted contributions from the Republican National Lawyers Association, which is not registered as a political committee. He could not provide proof of specific donations, but said donors were encouraged to contribute to the lawyers' group to "stop Al Franken."

Coleman's campaign did not immediately respond to the complaint.

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