NEWARK, N.J. — Jury selection for next week’s trial stemming from the 2013 lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge produced a wide cross-section of people and opinions, emphasis on the latter.
In responses to a questionnaire last week and to questions posed by the judge Tuesday, one prospective juror said he “sided with law enforcement” in most cases, while another said she believed people convicted of crimes should be given probation and community service because “everybody deserves a second chance.”
A third said Republican Gov. Chris Christie — who is not on trial and has denied knowledge of the alleged scheme — should be facing charges, while a fourth said the indictment of two former Christie allies last year was the product of partisan politics.
Not all of them survived the winnowing process that will eventually produce 12 jurors and four alternates to sit on the trial of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, who face civil rights, wire fraud and conspiracy charges. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday, and a trial is expected to take at least six weeks.
Baroni, a top Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bridge’s operator, and Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, are accused of reducing three access lanes to the bridge to one in the town of Fort Lee to punish the town’s mayor for not endorsing Christie.
Attorneys for both sides had several peremptory challenges — opportunities to dismiss jurors without stating a reason — left after Tuesday’s daylong session. About 30 potential jurors who reported Tuesday were to return Wednesday for questioning, along with about 50 more from last week’s original pool.
Picking a jury in a case that has received as much publicity as this one has can make a normally challenging task all the more daunting. Part of that has to do with Christie, an often polarizing figure whose presence looms over the trial, even though he wasn’t charged. It isn’t known if he has been subpoenaed to testify.
Selecting avowed fans or detractors of Christie could cut both ways: while Baroni and Kelly are Republicans who worked closely with the governor, part of their defense likely will be that others higher up in his administration — possibly including him — were involved in the alleged conspiracy, but were spared prosecution.
The woman who felt Christie should have been on trial survived Tuesday’s grilling, as did a woman who said on her questionnaire she “didn’t like Gov. Christie” and told the judge she “doesn’t agree with the Republican party’s views.”
Both said they could judge the evidence impartially. Either or both could still be dismissed by attorneys before the selection process concludes.