NEWARK, N.J. — The latest federal court filings in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case shed more light on what each side is worried about, and how wide the alleged political revenge plot in New Jersey may have spread.
Attorneys filed more briefs this week outlining what evidence they want to introduce — and keep out — at next month’s trial of a former aide and a former top appointee of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni are charged with conspiring to create traffic jams at the bridge to punish Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of neighboring Fort Lee, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election in 2013.
The government reiterated its earlier pleas to the judge to not allow the defendants to introduce evidence and argue that others may have led the alleged conspiracy. Defense attorneys, meanwhile, want the judge to bar testimony about the defendants’ dealings with another mayor.
Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and Baroni one of his top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge. Opening statements in their trial are scheduled for Sept. 19. Former Port Authority official David Wildstein has pleaded guilty and will testify for the government.
The subject of intense debate over the last three years has been who else aside from Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein may have known about the alleged scheme.
Christie hasn’t been charged, nor has anyone else in his inner circle. But another former aide to Christie texted a colleague in 2013 that she felt Christie “flat out lied” about who in his office was involved, according to a recent defense filing.
The government is urging U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton to prohibit the defense from arguing to jurors that the “involvement of uncharged third parties” negates their guilt.
Even if Baroni and Kelly weren’t “organizers or leaders” of the scheme, the government wrote, “the claim that they were simply following orders does not mean that they cannot be convicted for being a knowing participant in it.”
Meanwhile, defense lawyers want the judge to prohibit the government from presenting testimony about the alleged “freezing out” of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, another Democrat who declined to endorse Christie.
Government attorneys claim the Fulop evidence shows the defendants engaged in a pattern and “their involvement in the scheme and refusal to communicate with Mayor Sokolich did not result from accident or mistake.”
The defense has argued the indictment has no charges that relate to the Fulop allegations. Baroni’s attorney also has argued it was Christie, not Baroni, who canceled meetings with Fulop after the mayor’s intentions became clear.
Kelly’s attorney also wants the judge to exclude text messages Wildstein and Kelly exchanged Aug. 19, 2013, three weeks before the lane closures and a week after Kelly’s incriminating “Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” email.
On that date, according to documents released in early 2014, the two apparently joked in the texts about causing traffic jams to inconvenience a rabbi who had displeased Wildstein.
A hearing on the evidence is scheduled for Sept. 7, the day before jury selection begins.