After testimony spanning six weeks, jurors in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case will hear closing arguments beginning Thursday.
Two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie are on trial on charges they closed access lanes at the bridge for four days in September 2013 to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie.
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni both claim they thought it was part of a legitimate traffic study conceived by a bridge authority official who has since pleaded guilty. Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and Baroni, a former state senator, was a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The former Port Authority official, David Wildstein, testified Baroni and Kelly knew the goal was to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
Closing arguments are expected to last through Friday and the jury could start deliberating Monday. Kelly and Baroni face nine counts each including conspiracy, wire fraud, deprivation of civil rights and misapplying Port Authority property. The wire fraud conspiracy counts carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Both defendants testified during the trial. Prosecutors played video of Baroni’s testimony to a New Jersey legislative committee in 2013, in which they claim he lied when he described the traffic study.
They also focused on Kelly’s emails from before and during the lane closures, including one in August 2013 that read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Kelly said she sent that to Wildstein after Christie told her he was OK with a traffic study.
Kelly testified she told Christie in August about the lane closures being part of a traffic study. That contradicted Christie’s claims he didn’t know about them until several weeks after they happened, and didn’t know anyone on his staff was involved until months later. Christie continues to maintain he had no knowledge of the lane closures before or while they were occurring.
Baroni testified he took Wildstein, his subordinate at the Port Authority and a former high school classmate of Christie’s, at his word about the traffic study and abided by Wildstein’s directive to not respond to Sokolich’s pleas for help as the gridlock worsened.
Prosecutors showed jurors emails and text messages in which Kelly and Wildstein appeared to be rejoicing over the unfolding chaos in Fort Lee. Kelly testified the messages reflected she was pleased for Wildstein that the traffic study was proceeding successfully.