LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Defense Rests at Bridgegate Trial, Judge Gives Jurors Instructions

The defense rests in the Bridgegate trial. The Christie aides charged in the biggest corruption scandal in years proclaiming their innocence. Their boss not charged, but looming large over the proceedings. Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, but NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was there.

Aron: At the heart of the case is whether the GWB lane closures were a traffic study or a revenge scheme.

Bridget Kelly says she believed all along it was a traffic study.

Her co-defendant Bill Baroni has testified he believed the same thing.

They both blame David Wildstein for cooking up a revenge scheme and misleading them.

The government has tried to cast doubt on Kelly’s and Baroni’s versions of events. Today it wrapped up its cross examination of Kelly.

The five-day lane closures ended Sept. 13, 2013.

On Sept. 17, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had still received no explanation for the gridlock in his town despite begging for help every day, sent a text to Baroni at the Port Authority: “Someone needs to tell me that the recent debacle was not punitive in nature. The last four reporters that contacted me suggest that the people they are speaking with absolutely believe it to be punishment.”

And he asks for a 10 minute face to face with Baroni.

Prosecutor Vikas Khanna asked Bridget Kelly today if it was all just a traffic study, why she, Baroni and Wildstein were still ignoring the mayor’s urgent cries four days after the end of the lane closures.

Khanna: “Wildstein forwards you the text from Sokolich and says, ‘Please let me know instructions’?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Khanna: “And he’s asking you?”

Kelly: “Yes.”

Khanna: “This was a man — Sokolich — you believed Wildstein had been talking to all that week?”

Kelly: “That’s what I was told. Again, this was one of hundreds of things I was working on in the office.”

The government wrapped up by noting that Kelly’s testimony varied from that of Michael Drewniak, Deborah Gramiccioni and three other governor’s office witnesses.

Then federal Judge Susan Wigenton deliver a 90-minute charge to the jury.

She explained the defendants face nine charges — two related to misuse of public property, five related to wire fraud and two for depriving Fort Lee residents of the their civil right to travel freely on local roadways.

The government, she says, has to show the defendants knew the traffic study was a false pretense. It has to show the conduct involved would “shock the conscience” of the average person, that the defendants acted willfully as accomplices to an illegal scheme, that the charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

And although she never mentioned Gov. Christie, she advised jurors, “No other person is on trial here. You must decide the guilt or innocence only of these defendants in the courtroom.”

Khanna and fellow proctor David Feter left the courthouse without comment, as they always do.

Bridget Kelly’s attorney Michael Critchley took a few questions:

Aron: Just tell us your approach to your closing argument.

Critchley: Get a good night’s sleep and present the evidence and summation as best I can.

Aron: And your client is going to fare well you think?

Critchley: Well, everything equal, I think she’d rather be in the Caribbean but considering where we are, she’s doing fine.

Aron: One of Baroni’s attorneys then stepped up:

Jennifer Mara: We’re going back to the office to work on our closing argument. We expect to present our closing argument tomorrow and we look forward to it.

Aron: What’s your approach to the closing argument?

Mara: I can’t say anything.

Aron: Bill, how are you feeling?

Baroni: See you tomorrow.

Aron: Tomorrow begins 10 hours of closing arguments — two and a half by the government, two and a half by Baroni’s team, two and a half by the Kelly team. And then prosecutors get another two and a half hours for rebuttal.

That’s likely to take us through Friday.

Jurors will likely begin deliberations on Monday.