Bridgegate trial will go forward, federal judge rules

By Tim Darragh | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on June 14, 2016

NEWARK — The Bridgegate trials of two individuals with close political ties to Gov. Chris Christie will proceed as a federal judge Monday denied their motions to dismiss the case against them.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton, in an order that appeared in court filings Tuesday, denied the legal efforts to have the case thrown out by ex-Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, ex-deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 

Baroni and Kelly each face seven counts including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy against civil rights, deprivation of civil rights and conspiracy to obtain, and obtaining by fraud, knowingly converting and intentionally misapplying property of an organization receiving federal benefits in the George Washington Bridge lane closure case. Prosecutors allege they created a sham traffic study to cover up the plan to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie's 2013 re-election bid.

Wigenton's opinion was released hours after lawyers for Baroni and Kelly filed more briefs in the case, arguing in favor of a subpoena of a law firm that represents the New Jersey governor's office. 

Michael Critchley, representing Kelly, said his client was looking forward to getting into "open federal court, in front of a federal judge" to tell the complete story of what happened at the bridge. He said Kelly would be exonerated and looked forward to putting the "nightmare" of Bridgegate behind her.

Baron attorney Michael Baldassarre did not respond with comment.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman had no comment.

Before handling Baroni and Kelly's cases on each count, Wigenton addressed their complaint that the indictment violated their rights to due process, since they didn't have "fair notice" that blocking off traffic lanes to the bridge allegedly violated criminal law and that the handling of their case has been "fundamentally" unfair. 

It's too early to raise issues over the alleged vagueness of the law, the judge said. Those are questions for the trial, she wrote.

Wigenton also said that just because there appears to be no precedent for Bridgegate-like prosecutions, that doesn't mean this one should not go forward.

"Dismissal is not warranted, however, merely because the government has chosen to prosecute a novel set of facts," she wrote.

The judge also turned back arguments Baroni and Kelly's attorneys made, saying the defendants didn't have to monetarily profit to be charged with misapplying property. 

On the question of whether causing a traffic jam — albeit, a massive, days-long roadway paralysis — is a violation individuals' right to localized travel, Wigenton said the Third Circuit Court of Appeals already has ruled. "The right to move freely about one's neighborhood or town, even by automobile, is indeed 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty' and 'deeply rooted in the Nation's history,' " she said, citing the higher court.

Other counts were dismissed as questions not appropriate for the pre-trial stage. 

Finally, Wigenton dismissed Baroni's claim that his testimony before state legislative committee was misused against him. The law, she said, protects such speakers when they are under oath. Baroni was not, she said.

The trial date for Baroni and Kelly is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Another Christie associate and Port Authority executive, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty last year.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment