New Jersey judge orders naming of Bridgegate scandal co-conspirators
By Jonathan Stempel (Reuters) – A federal judge in New Jersey on Tuesday ordered the release of a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the criminal case against two former allies of Republican Governor Chris Christie in a 2013 scandal involving lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark ruled in favor of several media organizations that sought the list, saying the public interest in seeing names linked to “Bridgegate” outweighed the privacy interests of those named. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman had opposed the release, citing the potential harm to reputations and privacy, and saying the co-conspirator designation “will become relevant, if at all” only at trial. A spokesman for Fishman declined to comment. Last May, Fishman’s office unveiled criminal charges against Bridget Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The defendants were accused of wire fraud and civil rights deprivation for arranging the September 2013 shutdown of bridge access lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, allegedly to punish the Democratic mayor there for not endorsing Christie’s successful reelection bid. The closures snarled traffic for several days, causing big delays for drivers and hurting local businesses. Kelly and Baroni have pleaded not guilty. David Wildstein, another former Port Authority official, pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges. Christie has not been charged, and has denied involvement in wrongdoing. In her decision, Wigenton said the scandal has received such extensive media coverage that “very little” remained private. She also called it likely that anyone on the list would be a public employee, or an elected or appointed official. “Although privacy for third-parties is indeed important, this court is satisfied that the privacy interests of uncharged third parties are insufficiently compelling to outweigh the public’s right of access,” she wrote. Bruce Rosen, a lawyer for the media companies, on Tuesday asked the judge for the “immediate” release of the list. Christie made an unsuccessful run for the White House this year. He was chosen on Monday to lead the White House transition team for Donald Trump, the only candidate left in the race to be the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 presidential election. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr and Frances Kerry)