Jury ques­tions key point in lane-clos­ing case

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

NE­WARK, N.J. >> A jury ques­tion about a cen­tral is­sue in the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge lane-clos­ing trial prompted a heated ex­change Tues­day be­tween at­tor­neys and led one de­fense lawyer to ac­cuse the judge of ef­fec­tively “di­rect­ing a ver­dict of guilty.”

The ques­tion of mo­tive has un­der­scored much of the trial of two for­mer al­lies of Repub­li­can Gov. Christie who are ac­cused of schem­ing to cause traf­fic jams to pun­ish a Demo­cratic mayor who didn’t en­dorse Christie in 2013.

On their first full day of de­lib­er­a­tions af­ter a sixweek trial, ju­rors cut to the heart of the mat­ter: They sent a note to U.S. Dis­trict Judge Su­san Wi­gen­ton ask­ing if de­fen­dants Bill Ba­roni and Brid­get Kelly could be con­victed of con­spir­acy even if their acts weren’t meant to pun­ish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

When Wi­gen­ton said she would re­spond that they could con­vict, Kelly’s at­tor­ney Michael Critch­ley told the judge: “By an­swer­ing that way, you’re di­rect­ing a ver­dict of guilty.”

A few min­utes later, he slumped back in his chair and shook his head, earn­ing a re­buke from Wi­gen­ton. The judge later gave ju­rors her an­swer.

Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and Ba­roni was a top-level Christie ap­pointee to the Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jersey, the agency that op­er­ates the bridge.

Sid­ing with pros­e­cu­tors, Wi­gen­ton had told ju­rors they didn’t have to find that Kelly and Ba­roni know­ingly in­tended to pun­ish Sokolich in or­der to find them guilty of con­spir­acy. In­tent, pros­e­cu­tors suc­cess­fully ar­gued, wasn’t part of the of­fenses charged, even though it was men­tioned in the in­dict­ment.

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