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Scott Wente, Published February 02 2009

Coleman a fixture in court

ST. PAUL – Norm Coleman has a job, but sits in a courtroom watching judges decide whether he will get a different job.

Al Franken’s political fate is tied to the same courtroom proceeding, but he has kept his distance, vacationing and preparing for a job he does not have.

Like their politics, Coleman and Franken took different approaches to the first week of the Senate election trial that could determine which man is Minnesota’s next senator.

Coleman filed a lawsuit challenging election results that showed Franken won the election by 225 votes. The Republican watched the trial’s first five days in person. Each day he entered the courtroom, quietly greeted observers and took a seat next to his team of attorneys. He occasionally conferred with his lawyers during witness testimony and spoke with reporters during trial breaks.

Democrat Franken has not attended the trial. Attorney Marc Elias said while Franken will not sit in on the proceedings, his absence – and Coleman’s presence – means little.

“Obviously, former Sen. Coleman – it’s his lawsuit,” Elias said. “He’s certainly welcome to be here, and he has been. I don’t know that there’s anything to read into.”

Coleman, whose Senate term ended Jan. 3, took a job recently as a consultant to the Republican Jewish Coalition, but told reporters he needed to be in the courtroom as the trial got under way.

“It’s important for me to be right here, right now and that’s what I’m doing,” Coleman said.

Coleman said Friday he has not decided whether to attend the trial’s second week. He said sitting in the courtroom reminds him of his days as a prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office.

Coleman attorney Ben Ginsberg said Coleman’s observations are helpful for his legal team, attorney, but the campaign is not trying to influence the three judges by having the candidate in the courtroom.

Franken has maintained a largely private existence in recent weeks. He attended presidential inauguration activities in Washington, but has not held any media availabilities since.

Campaign staff said Franken has been preparing to be a senator by talking frequently to Minnesota lawmakers about congressional issues and to advisers about foreign and domestic issues.

“He’s getting ready to represent Minnesota on Day 1 the second that he is able to be seated,” spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said.

That preparation is on hold. Franken left Minnesota Thursday to vacation with his wife for a few days in Florida.

There was no courtroom strategy involved in Franken’s decision not to sit in on the trial, McIntosh said. He is briefed by attorneys on the case and reads media reports of the proceedings.

While the recount gave Franken more votes, he has not been issued an election certificate because of the pending election lawsuit. Franken sued to obtain an election certificate, which could allow him to be seated in the Senate.

A Minnesota Supreme Court hearing on that request is scheduled for Thursday.


Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com