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January 14, 2020

Supreme Court justices question if crimes were committed in Bridgegate scheme

Defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly are hoping to have their guilty verdicts overturned

Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, the two convicted in 2016 for the Bridgegate scheme, appeared before the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday seeking to have their guilty verdicts overturned and it declared that neither had committed federal crimes. 

The two individuals received encouraging feedback from the court, as several of the justices appeared sympathetic to their argument and questioned if crimes were even committed in the political scheme that took place in 2013.

The court hearing was reported on in person by both the Philadelphia Inquirer and

Three of the justices who expressed skepticism that Baroni — Gov. Chris Christie’s top political appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — and Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, defrauded the government by misusing federal resources included Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Stephen Breyer.

The court also questioned prosecutors’ claim that Baroni acted beyond the authority of his job when he reduced the number of traffic lanes open on the George Washington Bridge connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, to New York City.

“I see no reason to believe the jury made any such finding” Alito said. The former U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Alito also said that the deception did not prove Baroni lacked the authority.

According to new reports, Alito continued, saying “I’ve read these jury instructions several times. There’s nothing in there that would alert a jury, a juror, to the obligation to find that Baroni was unauthorized.”

Roberts noted the roads were “still being used for public purposes,” even if Baroni and Kelly had “commandeered the lanes” for their own political gains. 

“I don’t see how this case works,” Breyer reportedly said, stating that Baroni’s actions might not reach the level of a federal crime.

Bridgegate was a political scheme from 2013 intended to to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for his refusal to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign. The officials involved reduced the number of available lanes open in Fort Lee to drivers on the bridge, thus creating more traffic in one of the busiest travel areas in the country.

The scandal broke open publicly in January 2014 after Christie’s re-election when emails emerged that revealed the plot and linked the scheme to the governor’s office in Trenton. 

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in an email to Port Authority official David Wildstein. “Got it,” Wildstein responded. 

Baroni and Kelly were found guilty on seven federal charges, including fraud and conspiracy, in 2016. The jury in the trial found Baroni, Kelly, and Wildstein had tried covering it up by saying that they were orchestrating a traffic study.

While Wildstein cooperated with the government and pleaded guilty, Baroni and Kelly were both convicted and sent to jail.

A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Philadelphia upheld the majority of the convictions in 2018 and sentenced Kelly to 13 months and Baroni to 18 months in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the defendants’ appeal, thus freeing both Baroni and Kelly on bail in the meantime. Baroni has already served three months in jail.

Christie, who has denied knowledge and involvement with the scheme, made an appearance on Tuesday in front of the Supreme Court, as well.

Baroni and Kelly spoke after the hearing and expressed hope that a favorable decision would come their way later this year.

The case is expected to be decided by June.