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Afton city attorney is a major player in Senate recount

Fritz Knaak, Afton's city attorney, is also one of the attorneys working on Sen. Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate election recount case against Al Franken. The Minnesota Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on June 1. Submitted photo

Afton city attorney Fritz Knaak may have his work cut out for him in Afton, but there is another case currently commanding his attention -- Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount.

Knaak, of the law firm Knaak and Kantrud PA, and a Vadnais Heights resident, is one of several attorneys working on Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's case against Democratic contender Al Franken.

Both Coleman's and Franken's points of view are scheduled to be heard in the Minnesota Supreme Court on Monday, June 1.

"It's about as important of a case that will be heard in the Supreme Court," Knaak said.

He was brought on board for Coleman's case because of his previous experience with election challenges.

Prior to Knaak being approached for the job, he was acting as a media consultant for the elections and the recount, so it just seemed like a natural fit for him.

"The light bulb went off with these guys, 'He's the guy we need,'" he said. It was just the right place, right time."

Knaak said early on in the case he was the most visible person because they were still trying to organize a team.

"Nationally, I was called in at a point where everything needed to be organized," he said. "There was a lot of me during the recount because, frankly, that was my role at that point -- I was the most visible tip of the ice berg."

Knaak said being thrust in the public eye was an interesting experience for him, but not one that he had not experienced before -- he had spent 10 years in the Minnesota legislature.

"I've had some odd experiences, but I got used to walking into places and being recognized -- I had to be mindful of my behavior," he said. "It's just part of the job."

Even though he was fairly acquainted with encountering public opinion and scrutiny, he said it was still a surprise when complete strangers would approach him simply to share their views.

"You really don't think about being in the public eye until people come up to you who you have never met and they offer their opinions on the situation."

As the team started to fall into place, Knaak began to take a more of a behind-the-scenes position, more of an advisory approach.

Even though Knaak isn't as prominent as he once was, don't think he's not putting in as much time as he once did. Knaak said working on the Coleman case has been a more than full time job for him and everyone else.

"It's been a tremendous amount of work," he said. "It's been a very intense period for everyone in my office."

It has been nearly seven months since the election, and it's no surprise that, like most Minnesotans, Knaak is fairly worn out and anxious for the case to be resolved.

"Everybody is just naturally fatigued," he said. "I really thought we were gonna be done with this in December."

Despite being worn thin, don't expect Knaak to lose his professional drive because, according to him, being an attorney is his passion and nothing can change that.

"I like what I do and it always stays fresh because of my varied practice," he said.

Knaak said the fact he is able to transition from private to corporate to municipal is a great feeling.

"They always keep me on my toes and that's what has always kept me fresh," he said.

Knaak is confident regarding Monday's case, but he doesn't want to predict what the outcome will be because it could still go either way.

"I feel good about it, but you don't know for sure," he said. "The bottom line is there is a vat of 4,000 ballots out there that should be counted and the questions is whether we're going to open those ballots or aren't we."

If the case does not go in favor of Coleman, there is a chance it could ultimately proceed all the way up the legal ladder to the United States Supreme Court -- which could delay the seating of Minnesota's second senator until the end of the year.

"I don't want to predict what Norm will do," he said. "But there's a lot of people who think the situation is such that he ought to."

No matter the outcome, Knaak said it has been an interesting experience for everyone involved, including his other clients, and in the end it has been worthwhile.

"It's been a very, very interesting experience, an experience that I would never have traded for the world," he said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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