Jurors to hear closing arguments in New Jersey bridge case

Jurors in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case are set to hear closing arguments Thursday after six weeks of testimony.

The prosecution began Friday by summarizing its case against former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former bridge authority executive Bill Baroni.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton brought jurors into her courtroom and excused the panel shortly after 10 a.m., following a meeting in chambers with lawyers for co-defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly and the government.

Christie, who has not been charged with wrongdoing, has said he was unaware of the lane closings at the time.

Wildstein, a former high-ranking official at the Port Authority who attended high school with Christie, testified that Christie was told about the traffic in Fort Lee on the third day of the gridlock during a September 11 memorial event.

They both claim they thought the lanes were being closed as part of a legitimate traffic study conceived by a bridge authority official who has since pleaded guilty. Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, will likely get his chance to try to persuade the jury to acquit Kelly on Monday.

Wildstein, a cooperating witness, pleaded guilty previous year to conspiracy charges.

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She said whether Baroni and Kelly meant to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie's re-election bid when they allegedly played a role in shutting down local access lanes to the bridge should not be considered as part of the conspiracy charge. He testified that he orchestrated the lane closures with help from the two defendants to punish Sokolich for not publicly backing Christie's second term. Kelly testified she sent the email after finding out Sokolich had decided not to endorse Christie, but said the email was meant to give Wildstein the go-ahead to proceed with the traffic study. "And they chose to punish him by choking Fort Lee streets".

Kelly and Baroni are charged with fraud, conspiracy and depriving residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey, of their civil rights.

Baroni's lawyer is expected to deliver his closing argument later on Friday.

The most serious charge they face, wire fraud conspiracy, carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

But Kelly told jurors that she was simply parroting the language Wildstein had used in describing the potential gridlock caused by what she believed was a Port Authority-approved traffic study.

"I knew the cover-up was a cover-up when I was listening to it", Weinberg said.

Wildstein made no apologies for his role as a so-called "enforcer" at the Port Authority, and said he was there to serve the interests of his only constituent - Chris Christie.

  • Megan Austin