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Society

No Verdict Yet in N.J. Bridge Scandal

November 4, 2016

NEWARK, N.J. — A Federal jury went home Nov. 3 without reaching a verdict in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial of two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie as defense attorneys sought a mistrial and to have some evidence removed from consideration.

Four days into deliberations, the jury left the courthouse without sending any questions to the judge.

That was in contrast to the Nov. 1 session when they raised several questions about the counts in the indictment against Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni.

Kelly, Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, and Baroni, his top appointee to the bridge authority, are charged with scheming to use traffic jams to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie in 2013.

Defense attorneys were busy for a second day filing motions with U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton. The most intriguing was one seeking a mistrial that was almost entirely blacked out.

Attorneys would give no details on what the motion contained, and Wigenton allowed the prosecution to file its response to the motion under seal, away from public view.

A group of media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a separate motion arguing Wigenton should make the documents public.

While Wigenton had yet to rule on the mistrial motion, she denied a motion filed Nov. 2 in which defense attorneys asked her to give a different answer to jurors’ questions about the top conspiracy count in the indictment.

The defense wanted to have jurors determine the defendants’ guilt or innocence based on whether the government proved there was a plot to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Under conspiracy law, however, the motive or intent behind a conspiracy doesn’t always have to be proved; only the agreement to break the law does.

In this case, the primary crime alleged was misusing the property of an organization receiving federal benefits — the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.

In a related motion filed Nov. 3, defense attorneys sought to have Wigenton instruct jurors to ignore evidence the government presented that purportedly showed the defendants also tried to retaliate against Democratic Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop for not endorsing Christie.

In the motion, they wrote the evidence was presented to support the prosecution’s theory of punishment as a motive and noted that Wigenton has ruled jurors don’t have to conclude the defendants had that motive to find them guilty of conspiracy.

Christie has denied any knowledge of the plot and wasn’t charged. But Kelly, Baroni and another Port Authority official all testified Christie was informed about the lane closings either before or while they were going on.

The most serious charges against Kelly and Baroni carry the possibility of 20 years in prison.

(DAVID PORTER)

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