Minnesota Judges Hand Down Big Batch Of Rulings

The Minnesota election court handed down a whole bunch of rulings this afternoon — five of them — addressing topics large and small.

First up for our review here is the real tough one: Their order to fine Team Coleman $7,500 in court costs for having serially hidden evidence surrounding a key witness — and even the witness herself, for a time — from the Franken campaign. The Franken camp had asked the court to not only strike this witness, but to dismiss the entire claim of double-counted votes connected to her.

The court’s ruling delivers a stern tongue-lashing to Coleman’s lawyers for having grossly violated the rules of discovery, but they also explain why they didn’t go that far:

Under ordinary circumstances, the Court would be entirely within its discretion to strike the testimony of this witness and the claim to which her testimony relates. However, the Court is mindful of the special circumstances of this election contest. Minnesota has been without a Senator for two months. As the Court has previously recognized, “[c]onfidence in the integrity of our electoral processes is essential to the functioning of our participatory democracy.”

The between-the-lines message is clear: If the court had dismissed this witness and the whole claim, they would have left themselves uncomfortably open to an appeal on the grounds that they were disregarding legitimate factual claims. Even if they were upheld on appeal, it would have just tied the whole case up in legal limbo for even longer.

But, they warned: “In the event this sanction fails to deter future conduct on the part of Contestants’ counsel, the Court will not hesitate to impose harsher sanctions, up to and including dismissal.”The court also revisited their February 10 summary judgment ruling to allow 24 rejected Franken-voters in — though they hadn’t actually been counted yet — reversing themselves on three of them after the Coleman camp argued that the court’s February 13 ruling to impose strict standards on the counting of new ballots had to be imposed retroactively. In the grand scheme of things, this seems like a very minimal action on Coleman’s effort to either undo the strict standards or else apply them to all 290,000 absentees.

The court also gave these other rulings:

• The court denied Coleman’s new attempt to file affidavits from individual voters, in an attempt to get their votes counted.

• The court denied a motion by Duluth City Clerk Jeffrey Cox to either quash the subpoena he’s been served by the Franken campaign, or else force Franken to compensative him $1,151.50 for his time traveling to St. Paul. The court quite bluntly stated that Cox has a professional responsibility as an election officer to testify.

• The court also rejected Coleman’s request to reconsider a January ruling not to inspect ballots. Unlike other orders from this court, the denial order takes up only one page, summarily announcing the order’s existence, with no further explanation given.