Former Christie allies to argue for bridge case reversals

Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni
The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The traffic scandal that dragged down former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations will write another chapter on Tuesday as two former associates facing prison for their roles seek to convince a federal appeals court their convictions should be overturned.

Attorneys for Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly are expected to argue in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that prosecutors misapplied federal law to unfairly criminalize the duo’s actions in the fall of 2013, when they realigned traffic lanes at the busy George Washington Bridge and caused massive traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Baroni was a top executive with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bridge’s operator, and Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff. He received a 24-month sentence last year; Kelly was sentenced to 18 months.

Baroni’s Port Authority colleague, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and testified he conjured up the plot — and Baroni and Kelly gleefully went along — to punish Fort Lee’s mayor, a Democrat who didn’t endorse the Republican Christie’s re-election.

Christie wasn’t charged and denied knowing about the plot until months later, but the negative publicity from the scandal torpedoed his presidential aspirations in the 2016 GOP primary. His account of when he knew about the scheme was contradicted during the fall 2016 trial by Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein and others.

Wildstein, a former political operative and high school acquaintance of Christie’s, received probation and now publishes a news website focusing on New Jersey politics from his home in Florida.

Christie, now a political analyst for ABC, said last year he was “incensed” by their conduct and characterized as “ridiculous” the idea that he would have endorsed it.

In court filings, Baroni and Kelly have argued their convictions for misapplying the property of an organization receiving federal funds — the Port Authority, in this case — should be tossed because the law targets “diverting public property to private, personal, non-governmental uses,” something they say didn’t occur.

They also allege the trial judge erred when she instructed jurors that they could find the pair guilty even if they didn’t believe the government proved that the plot had a political motive.

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