NJ Taxpayers Paying for Lawyers on Both Sides of Bridgegate

Matt Katz, WNYC | April 15, 2014 | Katz on Christie

Updated Wednesday 11:00 a.m.

New Jersey taxpayers are paying for both sides in the Bridgegate fight.

The state of New Jersey is footing the majority of the legal fees for Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, whose documents have been subpoenaed as part of the Bridgegate investigation. Stepien’s attorney, Kevin Marino, said the state is paying him $340-an-hour, a portion of his hourly fee.

That subpoena was issued by the state Legislature’s lawyers — who are also being paid by taxpayers. These attorneys cost $350 an hour.

The Attorney General’s Office, which retained Marino, said in a statement that the indemnification of legal costs is limited to when Stepien was a public employee, which ended in April 2013 as Stepien went from a senior staff position in the governor’s office to Christie’s re-election campaign. But the Legislature subpoenaed documents from both and after that point — if it had limited its inquiry to afterward, taxpayers would have been off the hook.

New Jersey law allows employees to have state-funded representation for “civil matters” that “relate to actions taken within the scope of their employment,” and also “discretion to provide representation in non-civil matters if doing so is in the best interests of the state,” according to the Attorney General’s Office statement. So far, no bills have been submitted.

An internal investigation by the Christie Administration played down Stepien’s role in last year’s lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, placing most of the blame on Port Authority official David Wildstein and Bridget Ann Kelly, Stepien’s successor as Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff. But emails show Stepien knew of the lane closures while they were happening. Christie severed ties with Stepien in January.

Four other law firms have also been retained by the state Attorney General’s Office to represent those who have been subpoenaed as part of the Bridgegate scandal. Among those whose costs are being handled by taxpayers is spokesman Michael Drewniak, who had communication with David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who ordered the lanes closed to the George Washington Bridge.

In addition, taxpayers are paying for the team of lawyers who wrote an internal review clearing the governor of wrongdoing in both the Bridgegate and Sandy aid scandals. Lawyers for that firm, Gibson Dunn, are paid $650 an hour.