U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Bridgegate Convictions

NJ Spotlight | May 7, 2020 | Politics
[UPDATED, 4:30 p.m.] Court has thrown out convictions of former Christie administration officials, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni; what they, former Gov. Christie and the prosecutor in the case now say
Credit: (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Bridget Anne Kelly, left, and Bill Baroni leaving federal court after sentencing in Newark, March 2017. The Supreme Court has thrown out the convictions of the two political insiders involved in the Bridgegate scandal.

The U.S. Supreme Court today announced its unanimous decision overturning the federal convictions of Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly in the Bridgegate scandal, two former officials in the administration of Gov. Chris Christie.

By the high court’s standards, it was a colorfully written decision. Follow this link to read the complete decision.

The following are excerpts from the decision, as well as statements released by Kelly, Baroni and former Gov. Chris Christie.

U.S. Supreme Court decision, excerpts

BRIDGET ANNE KELLY, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES

No. 18–1059. Argued January 14, 2020—Decided May 7, 2020

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court:

“For four days in September 2013, traffic ground to a halt in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The cause was an unannounced realignment of 12 toll lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, an entryway into Manhattan administered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. For decades, three of those access lanes had been reserved during morning rush hour for commuters coming from the streets of Fort Lee. But on these four days—with predictable consequences—only a single lane was set aside. The public officials who ordered that change claimed they were reducing the number of dedicated lanes to conduct a traffic study. In fact, they did so for a political reason—to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to support the New Jersey Governor’s reelection bid.

“Exposure of their behavior led to the criminal convictions we review here.”  . . .

*****

“The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud. The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing—deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct. Under settled precedent, the officials could violate those laws only if an object of their dishonesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property. The Government contends it was, because the officials sought both to ‘commandeer’ the Bridge’s access lanes and to divert the wage labor of the Port Authority employees used in that effort. Tr. of Oral Arg. 58. We disagree. The realignment of the toll lanes was an exercise of regulatory power—something this Court has already held fails to meet the statutes’ property requirement. And the employees’ labor was just the incidental cost of that regulation, rather than itself an object of the officials’ scheme. We therefore reverse the convictions.”  . . .

*****

“In 2013, Governor Christie was up for reelection, and he wanted to notch a large, bipartisan victory as he ramped up for a presidential campaign. On his behalf, Kelly avidly courted Democratic mayors for their endorsements—among them, Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee. As a result, that town received some valuable benefits from the Port Authority, including an expensive shuttle-bus service. But that summer, Mayor Sokolich informed Kelly’s office that he would not back the Governor’s campaign. A frustrated Kelly reached out to Wildstein for ideas on how to respond. He suggested that getting rid of the dedicated Fort Lee lanes on the Bridge’s toll plaza would cause rush-hour traffic to back up onto local streets, leading to gridlock there. Kelly agreed to the idea in an admirably concise e-mail: ‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.’” . . .

*****

“As Kelly’s own lawyer acknowledged, this case involves an ‘abuse of power.’ Tr. of Oral Arg. 19. For no reason other than political payback, Baroni and Kelly used deception to reduce Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge—and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents. But not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime. Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

“It is so ordered.”

Statement from Bridget Anne Kelly

Credit: NJTV News
Bridget Anne Kelly

“Last June, I was so appreciative when the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear my case. Today, the Court gave me back my name and began to reverse the six-and-a-half-year nightmare that has become my life.

“Having been maligned, I now stand with my family and friends knowing that due process worked. While this may finally have made this case right for me, it does not absolve those who should have truly been held accountable.

“I would like to thank my amazing legal team of Michael Critchley, Mike Critchley, Jr., Edmund DeNoia, and Yaakov Roth.

“Today, I want nothing more than to hug my children knowing they will have their mom with them always. Thank you to all of my family and friends for never wavering in your love and support.”

Statement from Bill Baroni

Credit: NJTV News
Bill Baroni

“I am thankful for the Supreme Court of the United States for this clear statement of my innocence. After years of investigations, indictments, trials, appeals and even prison, today the Court has vindicated me and has made clear that I committed no crime.

“I have always said I was an innocent and today, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed.

“These have been very difficult years for me, my family and my friends. There were many tough days, and it was their faith in me and my innocence that allowed me to get through this.

“My legal team has been extraordinary. Mike Levy and the team at Sidley Austin are extraordinary legal professionals, and it was clear the Supreme Court saw one of America’s top lawyers argue my case. Mike and I have known each other from the first day of law school at the University of Virginia. He is an amazing lawyer and true friend.

“I have been asked do I regret going into prison even thought I have now been vindicated. I don’t. My fellow inmates at Loretto prison taught me so much about strength, resilience, and determination. They kept me going, even on the other side of the jail bars. And I shall always be there for them. I hope and pray they are well taken care of in this perilous time of COVID-19.

“I want to thank my family who supported me and kept me strong. They never let me give up, never let me give in, and encouraged me to keep fighting all the way to the Supreme Court.

“I want to thank my friends who were always there for me: coming with me every day to the trial; keeping me upbeat even in dark times and never letting me give up. “You can tell who your friends are when you go through something hard; I am so blessed with great and amazing friends.

“And thank you to my friends and family in Ireland. Many supported me by their visits, their thoughts, their notes, their prayers. Mile buíochas le mo chairde ar fad in Éirinn.

“Today is a long-awaited victory. But, as we are all living in the time of Coronavirus, my joy in being vindicated is tempered by my concern for the people with whom I served time in prison. This is a scary time for all of us; it is especially scary for people in prison who can’t self-isolate; can’t socially distance; can’t stay 6 feet apart. I am going to do all that I can to make sure they are not forgotten.

“I have always believed in public service. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled so clearly, I can continue my efforts to serve my community. And I am going to work to help those who are headed to prison, in prison, and getting out of prison. I have learned much in these past seven years about our criminal justice and prison systems. And I am going to spend these next years helping those that are caught in them.

Statement from former Gov. Chris Christie

Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Former Gov. Chris Christie

“The unanimous decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court ends a 6½ year political crusade by former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the Obama Justice Department against Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and dozens of members of my Administration. As many contended from the beginning, and as the Court confirmed today, no federal crimes were ever committed in this matter by anyone in my Administration. It is good for all involved that today justice has finally been done.

“What cannot be undone is the damage that was visited upon all of the people dragged through the mud who had nothing to do with this incident by the prosecutorial misconduct and personal vindictiveness of Paul Fishman. Despite being repeatedly told by numerous respected members of the bar during the investigation that he was inventing a federal crime, Paul Fishman proceeded, motivated by political partisanship and blind ambition that cost the taxpayers millions in legal fees and change the course of history. Worst of all, Fishman allowed Bill Baroni to go to jail for federal crimes he invented.

“The leadership of the Obama Justice Department is also culpable for permitting this misconduct to happen right under their noses, authorizing Paul Fishman to weaponize the office for political and partisan reasons.

“There are no words of apology that would be sufficient to right the wrongs committed by Paul Fishman. From the very first day of his involvement, he was determined to damage the reputations of as many members of our Administration as he could. This case was driven by a U.S. Attorney and Justice Department in search of a predetermined and biased outcome. In recklessly pursuing that outcome, they violated the oath sworn by every member of the Department of Justice.”

Statement from former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman

Credit: (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey from 2009 to 2017, pictured in May, 2015.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has reversed the unanimous decision of three Court of Appeals judges, as well as the finding of the trial judge, that the defendants committed several federal crimes.

“As the Supreme Court’s opinion unequivocally recognized, the evidence ‘no doubt shows wrongdoing – deception, corruption, and abuse of power.’ Today’s ruling does not negate the work of the career prosecutors and law enforcement agents who uncovered and exposed those responsible for that conduct, their motivation to assist Chris Christie’s reelection, and the many lies they told to cover their tracks. Nor does the decision affect the extortion conviction of David Samson, the former New Jersey Attorney General and Port Authority Chairman who was also the head of Chris Christie’s transition team.

“It is stunning, but perhaps not surprising, that Chris Christie’s response is to concoct accusations of political ambition, partisanship, and personal vindictiveness. Chris Christie may try to rewrite his legacy — and he may want to rewrite history — but the fact remains that the “deception, corruption, and abuse of power” was committed for precisely those reason by his team on his watch.

“The job of federal prosecutors is to investigate and prosecute that kind of wrongdoing fairly, honestly, and objectively, and to prosecute when appropriate. I did my job and my colleagues did theirs.”