By David Cruz
Bridget Kelly was silent as she traversed a phalanx of cameras and reporters on her way into the courtroom this morning. One of the key players in the George Washington Bridge scandal, she has refused to turn over any documents to the legislative committee looking into it. Inside the courtroom, her lawyer, Michael Critchley, tried to make her case.
“Hypothetically if I respond and turn over this document, I will basically be testifying. Yes, although it does not on its face relate to the George Washington Bridge. Although on it’s face it does relate to the reduction of three to one lanes, I’m authenticating what it does,” said Critchley.
The defense argued that the committee — by demanding more emails and texts and other messages — was forcing Kelly and her co-defendant Bill Stepien to incriminate themselves. But the attorney for the legislative committee said they already had a number of other emails showing Kelly and Stepien’s roles in the scandal.
“Since the time this subpoena was issued, we’ve received even more emails for which Ms. Kelly is on or Mr. Stepien are on and text messages. So it’s not an inference, it’s a knowledge at this point that they are on in considerable number of communications,” said Reid Schar, attorney for the plaintiff.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, an authority on open public records requests, listened intently and asked pointed questions throughout the three-hour proceeding, expressing skepticism at arguments from both sides.
“Why you believe that the defendants do not have reasonable cause to fear criminal prosecution, it seems to have become well known that there is a federal investigation that is ongoing into the lane closures for the GW Bridge,” Jacobson said.
Stepien wasn’t in court today, but, after the hearing, his attorney said the arguments made today were of significance beyond the bridge scandal.
“The fifth amendment belongs to all of you; just as it belongs to Mr. Stepien. That’s what this is all about,” said Stepien’s attorney Kevin Marino.
“We think there’s an important public policy issue at stake here in terms of the production of documents involving the use of public resources and we’re encouraged that we’re in front of a judge who routinely handles production of document cases under the Open Public Records Act, so she understands,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of the Special Committee on Investigations.
The judge didn’t give an indication as to when she would render a decision, but it’s clear from some of the testimony we heard today that this will not be the last time the George Washington Bridge scandal will be discussed in a courtroom.