Bridget Kelly, a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie, and Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who both were sentenced to prison for their roles the so-called Bridgegate scandal of 2013 will be able to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices agreed to hear the appeal in an order issued June 28.
In 2013, Christie was running for re-election and seeking the endorsement of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich when the lanes in the town leading to the George Washington Bridge were abruptly closed, causing traffic gridlock.
After Sokolich refused to back Christie, David Wildstein, then Baroni’s chief of staff, suggested to Kelly via e-mail that the Port Authority could shut down the Fort Lee lanes in an effort to put pressure on the mayor. Kelly responded in an e-mail: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The note was a key piece of evidence in the government’s case against her.
Kelly and Baroni were convicted of conspiracy by a U.S. District Court jury in 2016 and the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdicts last year. Wildstein pleaded guilty and testified for the government in the case. Christie was not charged and has denied knowing about the scheme.
Kelly is scheduled to report to prison in July and remain there for 13 months. Baroni is serving an 18-month sentence.
In seeking review by the Supreme Court, Kelly argued that her conduct was just politics. “Nothing is easier (or more common) than accusing a politician of advancing his own political interests while purporting to act in the public interest,” Kelly’s argued in court filing. “If that suffices to indict, and if a jury finding to that effect suffices to convict, no official in the nation could steer clear of the prosecutorial crosshairs.”
The government countered that Kelly had exceeded the bounds of bare-knuckled political brawling. “[T]he court of appeals in this case upheld the jury’s verdict based on a finding that petitioner and her co-conspirators deprived the Port Authority of money—namely, thousands of dollars of wages paid for public employee labor that was unnecessary and served no legitimate Port Authority function.”
Prosecutors further argued that “[w]hether petitioner and Baroni were motivated by political animus toward the mayor of Fort Lee or by a desire for personal gain, their criminal liability would be unchanged, because their conduct constituted a ‘scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses.'”