Clos­ing ar­gu­ments de­layed in trial over le­gal is­sue

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By David Porter

Clos­ing ar­gu­ments were post­poned Thurs­day in the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge laneclos­ing trial with no ex­pla­na­tion other than that a “le­gal is­sue” had arisen.

Ju­rors had ex­pected to hear from at­tor­neys in the sixth week of the trial of two for­mer al­lies of Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie charged with a po­lit­i­cal re­tal­i­a­tion plot.

But after spend­ing about an hour in her cham­bers with at­tor­neys for both sides, U.S. Dis­trict Judge Su­san Wi­gen­ton sent ju­rors home. None of the at­tor­neys com­mented af­ter­ward on what the is­sue was. Ju­rors were told to re­turn Fri­day.

De­fense at­tor­neys had ar­gued ear­lier in the week that Wi­gen­ton should in­struct ju­rors that if they felt the gov­ern­ment didn’t prove Brid­get Kelly and Bill Ba­roni used the lane clo­sures to re­tal­i­ate against a mayor for not endorsing Christie, they could find them not guilty.

Wi­gen­ton, who gave the jury in­struc­tions Wed­nes­day, dis­agreed and said the mo­tive wasn’t part of the crimes charged. De­fense at­tor­neys claimed they were be­ing ham­strung by the rul­ing be­cause pros­e­cu­tors men­tioned re­tal­i­a­tion against Sokolich in their open­ing state­ments and based their case around that con­tention.

Kelly, Christie’s for­mer deputy chief of staff, and Ba­roni, one of his top ap­pointees to the Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jersey, are charged with clos­ing ac­cess lanes at the bridge for four days in Septem­ber 2013 to pun­ish a Demo­cratic mayor who didn’t en­dorse Christie.

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.

The for­mer Port Au­thor­ity of­fi­cial, David Wild­stein, tes­ti­fied that Ba­roni and Kelly knew the goal was to re­tal­i­ate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Kelly and Ba­roni face nine counts each in­clud­ing con­spir­acy, wire fraud, de­pri­va­tion of civil rights and mis­ap­ply­ing Port Au­thor­ity prop­erty. The wire fraud con­spir­acy counts carry a max­i­mum 20-year prison sen­tence.

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