Jurors Picked for Bridge Scandal Trial as Opinions About Chris Christie Are Aired

NEWARK — The jury of seven women and five men that will decide whether a political scandal involving the closing of approach lanes at the George Washington Bridge rose to the level of a federal crime includes a certified paralegal who lives in the same town as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and says she does not like him.

“My grandmother loathes him,” the woman, who writes a blog about cooking and weight loss, said during questioning by Judge Susan D. Wigenton.

Another juror is a retired special education teacher who recalled her wife being unhappy about the lane closings, which crippled traffic on the New Jersey side of the bridge for four days starting on the first day of school in September 2013. And an alternate juror described the governor as an “irrational fool,” saying that in his interactions with the public, “he seems like he’s just jumping down people’s throats.”

Prosecutors and defense lawyers declined to comment on the final makeup of the jury on Wednesday, but the defense in particular seemed happy — expressing visible disappointment only when the government eliminated a well-read librarian who had written on her jury questionnaire that “it should be Chris Christie on trial.”

While the defense was allowed 14 strikes against potential jurors, it exercised only eight before saying it was satisfied with the panel. Prosecutors used all but one of their nine strikes.

The two days of jury selection in Federal District Court here underscored how much the case is about Mr. Christie, even though he is not charged and has repeatedly tried to disassociate himself from the lane-closing scheme.

Prosecutors say the two defendants on trial — Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, both close allies of Mr. Christie, a Republican — used the governor’s office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge, as arms of Mr. Christie’s re-election campaign, to reward mayors who endorsed him and punish those who did not.

Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly, prosecutors say, conspired to shut down the lanes as retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., the town where traffic was gridlocked, then covered it up for months until a legislative subpoena revealed an email from Ms. Kelly calling for “some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Lawyers for Ms. Kelly, once a deputy chief of staff and loyal soldier and friend to Mr. Christie, will try to separate her from him, and to persuade the jury that it was improbable that she had the power or the inclination to carry out any kind of political retribution, or to engage the Port Authority’s vast resources to cover it up. The real scheming, they have argued, happened above her head.

Ms. Kelly, a divorced mother of four children who has been unemployed since Mr. Christie fired her in January 2014 after the email surfaced, also wants to stir sympathy, and may be helped by a pool tilted toward women. (Judge Wigenton chided a male prosecutor who did not understand a juror who said her hobby was “crafting towels.” You take a towel and put lace or other embellishments on it, the woman explained. “You’re such a man,” the judge told the prosecutor.)

Mr. Baroni, who was Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, is trying to separate himself not only from Mr. Christie but also from David Wildstein, a former friend whom Mr. Baroni hired to be a kind of enforcer at the agency. Mr. Wildstein, who had previously written a gossipy anonymous political blog in New Jersey, received Ms. Kelly’s email — “Got it,” he replied — and has pleaded guilty in the lane-closings case in exchange for his cooperation.

Lawyers for both defendants have said their clients will testify. “We are looking forward to clearing Bill’s name,” said Michael Baldassare, a lawyer for Mr. Baroni.

Among the other jurors are at least two who said they had participated in political campaigns; one has a brother who worked for President Obama. There is a product manager for an environmental company, a retired camcorder repairman, a retired dietary aide at a veteran’s hospital and an unemployed chef who indicated that his hobbies included “finding great deals at the supermarket.”

The judge did not release a copy of the questionnaire potential jurors had to complete. It had 85 questions, and lawyers said it borrowed heavily from those used in the political corruption trials of Bob McDonnell, the former Virginia governor, and William J. Jefferson, a former congressman from Louisiana.

The questionnaire included a list of about 250 names of people expected to either be mentioned or to testify at the trial. Lawyers for Mr. Baroni eliminated a potential juror who said she was a family friend of one person on the list: William Palatucci, one of Mr. Christie’s closest political advisers.

The judge excused three supporters of Mr. Christie who indicated that they thought the trial was politically biased, and one who said he had supported Mr. Christie but had changed his opinion once the governor endorsed Donald J. Trump for president. (All said they could not be impartial. By contrast, the paralegal who said she did not like Mr. Christie said, “I would like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”)

The judge has said she expects the trial to last six weeks. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.

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