Jury questions key point in lane-closing case
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.