‘Bridgegate’ defendants’ appeal arguments set for April

NEWARK, N.J. — Two former allies of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie convicted in an alleged plot to use traffic jams to punish a mayor for not endorsing the Republican will have their appeals considered by a federal court next month.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will consider the case on April 23.

Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni were convicted in November 2016 of fraud, conspiracy and civil rights violations for closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, considered the world’s busiest traffic span, in 2013.

The aim, according to prosecutors, was to punish the Democratic mayor of the town next to the bridge for not endorsing Christie’s re-election that November. Christie, who left office this January after reaching his two-term limit, wasn’t charged but saw the scandal sink his presidential hopes in 2016.

Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and Baroni was a top Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge that connects Fort Lee and New York. Kelly received an 18-month sentence last spring and Baroni was sentenced to 24 months. They’ve been out on bail since their sentencing.

Former Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty and testified against Kelly and Baroni, and was sentenced to probation last summer. Wildstein, a political blogger and former high school classmate of Christie’s, was the recipient of the infamous email from Kelly that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” referring to the town that endured gridlock for several days during the bridge lane closures.

Wildstein moved to Florida, where he has returned to writing about politics in New Jersey for a new website, the New Jersey Globe.

In appealing their convictions, Kelly and Baroni claim their actions didn’t violate federal law since no federal statute guarantees the right to intrastate travel. They also argue that the trial judge erred by not telling jurors the government had to prove the political motive behind the alleged plot in order to secure a conviction.

During the trial, Wildstein, Kelly and Baroni contradicted Christie’s account that he didn’t know about the traffic jams or their purpose until months afterward. Wildstein testified he and Baroni joked with Christie about traffic problems in Fort Lee while the lane closures were underway, and Kelly testified she told him about the plans to close lanes before they occurred.

After expected oral arguments on April 23, the appeals court is expected to take a few months to rule. It could uphold the convictions, dismiss them or throw out some and send the case back for a new trial on the remaining counts.