Mistrial request, blackened out pages, sealed documents: Never a dull Bridgegate trial moment

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NEW JERSEY — The Bridgegate trial proved that it hardly has a dull moment on Thursday, even when the main activity happening is jury deliberation.

The day began with a request for a mistrial, and it got more remarkable from there.

Defendants Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni are accused of working with Port Authority senior manager David Wildstein to carry out a days-long traffic backup in September 2013 on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge.

Wildstein has admitted to orchestrating and administering the scheme. He's confessed that it was retaliation against Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, where the bridge is located, after Sokolich did not endorse Gov. Chris Christie for re-election.

Wildstein was the star witness against Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, and Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, which controls the operation of the bridge.

Kelly's and Baroni's lawyers asked for a mistrial ruling first thing Thursday morning. On what grounds, exactly, was not clear, because virtually the entire request filed by defense lawyers was redacted — almost all of the text was officially blacked out from public review.

In addition to that attempt at confidentiality by defense counsel, the prosecution also requested that the judge seal all of the proceedings related to the mistrial from the public record.

They also requested that Judge Susan Wigenton seal transcripts of arguments that both sides had made in court in Wednesday.

It was then that the lawyers came into and went out of the courtroom a half dozen times for arguments, under lock and key.

In the sessions, Kelly's and Baroni's attorneys asked Judge Wigenton to reconsider her answer to a question the jury had asked on Tuesday: Can you be guilty of conspiracy without the act being intentionally punitive toward Mayor Sokolich?

In other words, if the defendants shut down the bridge without meaning to take revenge, could they still be guilty of conspiracy? The judge said yes.

Defense lawyers asked her on Wednesday to reconsider. On Thursday, she formally refused.

Late Thursday afternoon, defense attorneys also filed a motion asking the judge to re-instruct jurors to disregard testimony presented during trial regarding Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop.

Defense lawyers argued in their motion that since jurors had now been told by the judge that Kelly and Baroni could be found guilty of conspiracy even if they did not intend to punish Ft. Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, then they had to ignore the prosecution's argument that there was an emphasis within the Chris Christie administration and campaign to act punitively toward Fulop.

Fulop is a vocal critic and rival of the governor.

The jury reconvenes on Friday at 9:30 a.m.

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