The U.S. solicitor general’s office has recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court not hear the appeal of two convicted defendants in the “Bridgegate” case, nudging the four-year legal saga of New Jersey’s most famous traffic jam toward a conclusion.
“Further review is not warranted,” the brief said. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear the case by the end of its term next month.
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni want the court to hear the appeal of their 2016 convictions for causing gridlock near the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor for not endorsing their boss, former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie wasn’t charged, but the revelations from the scandal and conflicting accounts of when he knew about the plot combined to sabotage his 2016 presidential aspirations.
Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff at the time of the 2013 lane realignments in the town of Fort Lee, and Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had their sentences reduced this spring after a federal appeals court tossed some convictions last fall. Kelly petitioned the Supreme Court to consider the rest of the convictions, and Baroni joined in the appeal.
They argued that while their actions may have been ethically questionable, they weren’t illegal because neither derived personal benefit, and the Port Authority, which operated the bridge, wasn’t deprived of tangible benefits as a result of the scheme.
They also argued that Baroni had the authority to realign the lanes himself in his position, to which Christie had appointed him.
In a brief filed late Wednesday, the solicitor general’s office argued that Kelly, Baroni and co-conspirator David Wildstein duped Port Authority employees into committing time and resources to the scheme by telling them it was a traffic study. Eleven toll workers assigned extra shifts were paid thousands of dollars in overtime they wouldn’t otherwise have earned, the brief contended.
Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein needed to concoct the story about the traffic study precisely because Baroni didn’t have the sole authority to realign the lanes, it continued.
Whether Kelly and Baroni “were motivated by political animus toward the mayor of Fort Lee or by a desire for personal gain, their criminal liability would be unchanged, because their conduct constituted a ‘scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses,’” the brief concluded.
Baroni began serving his 18-month federal prison term this spring. Kelly is scheduled to report this month to serve a 13-month sentence, but her attorneys are seeking to delay that until July.
Wildstein, a former high school classmate of Christie’s who reported to Baroni at the Port Authority, pleaded guilty. He testified against Baroni and Kelly, was given probation and currently writes a blog focusing on New Jersey politics.