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June 30, 2009 4:12 PM

Franken's Victory in Minnesota Election Is Win for Perkins Coie

Posted by Susan Beck

Eight months after Minnesota voters cast their ballots, the state supreme court has finally spoken in the matter of Coleman v. Franken. Today the high court, by a vote of 5-0, upheld a lower court ruling and declared that Democrat Al Franken was validly elected senator, by a margin of 312 votes out of nearly 3 millon cast. Later in the day Norm Coleman conceded the race to Franken. The court’s decision can be found here.

As reported by the Blog of Legal Times, an Am Law Daily sibling, the ruling is a big victory for Perkins Coie partner Marc Elias, who has represented Franken through much of the legal battle. A specialist in elections law and the general counsel to the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004, Elias argued Franken's case before the Minnesota Supreme Court a month ago.

We talked to Elias at the end of a long, but exciting, day for him. "We thought the argument [before the Minnesota Supreme Court] went well based on the questioning and we were confident we would prevail," he said. Elias points out that they won unanimous decisions at every stage of this challenge. "It's been absolutely fascinating. It was the largest recount in American history. We were before the state supreme court on multiple occasions. This case had everything you could possibly want in terms of interest and excitement."

Could this decision have repercussions beyond this election? "To the extent it has precedential value, it makes clear that Bush v. Gore doesn't make unconstitutional the local administration of elections," said Elias.

The Perkins Coie team also includes Kevin Hamilton and Lisa Marshall Manheim. In addition Minneapolis lawyers David Lillehaug and Richard D. Snyder of Fredrikson & Byron worked on the case for the comedian turned politician.

Coleman was advised by Benjamin Ginsberg of Washington, D.C.’s Patton Boggs, who was an architect of the Bush recount. The Republican candidate also relied on the following lawyers: James Langdon and Gretchen Agee from Dorsey & Whitney; Tony Trimble and Matthew Haapoja of Minnetonka, Minnesota’s Trimble & Associates; Minneapolis lawyer Joseph Friedberg; and Frederic Knaak of Knaak & Kantrud, in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota.

We called  lawyers for Coleman but did not hear back.

Coleman filed his appeal after a three-judge penal appointed by the state supreme court concluded that Franken received 312 more votes than Coleman, and was entitled to a certificate of election to become a U.S. Senator.

The issue on appeal was whether certain rejected absentee ballots should be counted. The court dismissed Coleman’s claim that his equal protection rights were violated under Bush v. Gore because local election jurisdictions didn't use uniform standards for counting absentee ballots. The state supreme court agreed with the lower court that Bush v. Gore didn't apply. In Bush, the high count found there were no uniform standards for determining a voter’s intent; here, the court concluded, there was a "clear statutory standard for the acceptance or rejection of absentee ballots." In addition, the Minnesota court noted, the Bush case involved the examination of individual ballots, "creating opportunities for manipulation of the decision for political purposes." In contrast, the Coleman-Franken case focused on whether unopened absentee ballots--that gave no indication of the vote inside--should be counted.

Does Elias plan to attend the swearing in of Minnesota's newest senator? "I'll be there. You could not keep me away."

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A win, perhaps,for the lawyers; but a loss for the people of Minnesota.

Perkins Coie have performed a great service for the American people and their constitution. Justice was served, not merely seen to be served.

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