More than 200 prospective jurors are expected to head to federal court in Newark, New Jersey, for the criminal case involving lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
Two former allies of New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie are charged with conspiring to create traffic jams near the bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election campaign in 2013. The two are Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, who was the deputy executive director of the agency that operates the bridge.
Christie hasn’t been charged but could be subpoenaed to testify about the alleged plot.
Prospective jurors are to fill out a questionnaire Thursday, then return next week to answer questions from attorneys.
Opening statements are set for Sept. 19.
Court rules on evidence
Prosecutors yesterday won an early victory when U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark ruled they can seek to show the defendants engaged in a pattern of heavy-handed tactics against political foes.
Prosecutors can offer testimony to show the defendants allegedly punished Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democratic mayor who also didn’t endorse Christie in 2013.
Cancelled meetings and “radio silence” toward Fulop mimicked later actions — and even phraseology — by the defendants toward Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, whose town suffered massive traffic jams because of the lane realignment, prosecutors said.
Sokolich’s treatment “wasn’t isolated, wasn’t accidental,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Feder argued.
The judge also ruled jurors can consider text messages between Kelly and former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty and will testify for the government, in which they apparently joke about causing traffic jams to inconvenience a rabbi who had displeased Wildstein.
The texts were sent about a week after Kelly’s infamous “time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” email to Wildstein, and about two weeks before the Fort Lee lane closures.
Prosecutors also can introduce a video of defendant Bill Baroni’s testimony before a state legislative committee in which he claimed the lane closures were part of a traffic study.
The federal judge denied a motion by Baroni’s attorney to delay opening statements based on new evidence he says he has received.
Appeals court rules on co-conspirator list
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia ruled yesterday that a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the bridge lane-closing case should not be released before trial.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision after media organizations including The Associated Press went to court seeking the list.
In May, a judge in Newark ordered the list released. But an unidentified person filed to block its release, saying he will be branded a criminal even though he hasn’t been charged.
The appeals court says public access to judicial documents has limits.