Bridgegate defendants get hearing before US Supreme Court

Henrietta Strickland
January 16, 2020

Christie and wife Mary Pat sat in the high court's gallery behind former aide Bridget Anne Kelly, who's appealing her conviction for scheming to repeatedly tie up traffic approaching the George Washington Bridge in 2013, reported.

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two more cases on Tuesday afternoon.

The nine justices of the Supreme Court are expected to issue a ruling by June.

The modern-day court has made it increasingly hard to prosecute public officials who abuse their power but fail to personally enrich themselves. Chris Christie will ask the justices to throw out their fraud convictions and place new limits on public corruption prosecutions.

The traffic chaos lasted for four days, causing children to be late for school, commuters late for work and leaving emergency vehicles stuck in gridlocked traffic.

The jury found they closed two of three bridge lanes resulting from Manhattan into Fort Lee, New Jersey, to penalize Fort Lee's mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's re-election.

All of the major players in the scandal were in the Supreme Court chamber Tuesday morning. Kelly was sentenced to 13 months in prison, and Baroni received 18 months. The time was split by attorneys for Kelly, who will got 20 minutes, with 10 minutes going to the attorney for Baroni. "We believe the Supreme Court chose to hear this case because it shares that view".

Jacob Roth, a lawyer for Kelly, told the court that if the convictions were allowed to stand it "turns the integrity of every official action at every level of government into a potential federal fraud investigation".

Roberts noted despite the fact Kelly and Baroni worked to create gridlock by reducing the number of bridge toll lanes reserved for Fort Lee traffic from three to one, the formerly reserved lanes were open to other traffic and therefore "still being used for public purposes".

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was more supportive of the government, calling the extra time worked by government employees "essential to the scheme".

Prosecutors said Kelly worked with Baroni, then the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, to close the lanes under the guise of conducting a traffic study.

But Chief Justice John Roberts called the use of the lanes "incidental" to the scheme's goal. What if the traffic rerouting is done to benefit a nearby development or hotel?

Deputy Solicitor General Eric Feigin told the justices that Baroni and Kelly committed fraud when they told a lie to take control over the lanes and use resources to realign them. Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to wonder if it was a crime at all.

Justice Elena Kagan also pushed back. The question for the court was whether, under the property-fraud statute, Kelly and Baroni "implemented a fraudulent scheme to obtain property". But here, said Kagan, "the object was not to obtain property". "The object was to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee".

As Chris Christie - the former New Jersey governor and unsuccessful 2016 Republican presidential candidate - looked on from the court chambers, lawyers representing two of his former political allies presented an argument that would be familiar to anyone following the White House rebuttal to impeachment charges.

"Yes", replied Roth. It would still be incidental.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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