Closing arguments delayed in trial over legal issue
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.