Chris Christie's supporters are getting judge's Bridgegate ruling wrong: Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on April 10, 2014

Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson, who ruled this week that subpoenas for emails from Christie administration staffers Bill Stepien and Bridget Kelly - two key figures in the Bridgegate investigation - were too broad.


Gov. Chris Christie’s defenders are celebrating a ruling issued Wednesday that knocked down two critical subpoenas issued by the legislative committee investigating the Bridgegate scandal.

The lesson, to them, is that the Legislature should wind down its inquiry and let federal prosecutors handle it.

“The U.S. attorney is more than competent to conduct an investigation,” says Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), a member of the committee.

That is a fundamental misreading of the decision by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, one of the state’s most respected jurists. The truth is that her ruling closed one door and opened another, leaving the committee a clear path to pursuing its investigation.

Yes, she slapped the committee hard for issuing subpoenas that were so broad they amounted to a “fishing expedition.” And she vigorously defended the important constitutional right against self-incrimination.

That part of the ruling is a big win for the targets of these subpoenas: Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, who managed both of Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns. Jacobson ruled that both face a clear risk of criminal prosecution, and so they have the right to withhold testimony and documents.

But the judge also gave the committee a big win by affirming its right to grant immunity to witnesses, putting her stamp of approval on a legislative power that has never been tested. And once immunity is granted, she ruled, the committee can compel testimony.

The bottom line is that this committee retains powerful tools to push the investigation forward. Punting to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman now would be a cop-out of historic dimensions.

The committee’s first step seems obvious. It should issue new subpoenas that are more narrowly tailored, answering Jacobson’s central concern. The subpoenas she struck down asked Kelly and Stepien to turn over all documents related to the lane closures. Jacobson suggested a more focused subpoena asking for communications among Kelly, Stepien and David Wildstein, the governor’s man at the Port Authority who ordered the access lane closures. That is certainly worth a shot.

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