Christie’s Taxpayer-Funded Lawyers Increase Work on Bridgegate Case

Matt Katz, WNYC | November 3, 2016 | Katz on Christie

Credit: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
(From left to right) Bill Baroni, Gov. Chris Christie, and David Wildstein talk at World Trade Center Site, September 11, 2013
Gov. Chris Christie’s taxpayer-funded legal bills for Bridgegate spiked as the case moved to trial and proceedings began, according to the latest documents provided to WNYC from the Attorney General’s Office.

The attorneys from the Gibson Dunn firm, including a close friend of Christie’s and several who contributed to his presidential campaign, billed almost every day as the trial began in September. Christie was on a list of potential witnesses but was not called to testify. It is unclear what exactly the attorneys were doing, since the bills are heavily redacted. 

The bills from January 2014, when the scandal broke, through the beginning of October bring the total cost for Gibson Dunn and its subcontractor, digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg, to $11,278,532.20.

Christie has also retained an attorney to defend him against a citizen’s criminal complaint of official misconduct related to the lane closures scandal, but spokesmen for the governor’s office didn’t answer a question about who pays for that representation. The attorney, Craig Carpenito, referred questions to the governor’s office.

Gibson Dunn initially was hired to respond to federal criminal subpoenas that landed in the governor’s office in the wake of Bridgegate. Later the firm produced an internal investigation that blamed much of the lane closures on the emotional state of Bridget Kelly, who was later charged in the scheme. 

The role of defendant Bill Baroni did not factor into their findings. And the cover-up, which has been at the center of the federal trial, went unmentioned. 

Twenty-eight Gibson Dunn attorneys contributed to Christie’s presidential campaign, including one of the attorneys who interviewed him for the internal investigation, Debra Wong Yang — a personal friend of Christie’s who hosted a campaign fundraiser for him. Wong Yang continues to bill the state for legal work on the case.

Meanwhile, Port Authority toll payers could be on the hook for the legal bills of Baroni — if he’s not convicted. Baroni was the deputy executive director of the agency at the time of the lane closures and had told the Legislature that the gridlock in the borough of Fort Lee was due to a traffic study. The Port Authority has also spent about $676,600 on the attorneys for other current and former employees who were subpoenaed and investigated in the matter. 

And that’s not all. The borough of Fort Lee billed $225,000 for its own legal expenses related to the lane closures. In addition a Democratic-run legislative investigative committee charged taxpayers $1.2 million, and state employees subpoenaed in the matter had another $1.2 million in legal fees covered.

That brings the total legal cost to taxpayers and toll payers, so far, to $14.6 million.