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New Jersey Bridge-Jam Panel May Call Witnesses in May

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April 11 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chairman of a panel investigating intentional traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge, said the committee may call witnesses to testify as soon as next month.

The Sayreville Democrat said the committee is also looking at its next move after a judge ruled April 9 that two former allies of Governor Chris Christie don’t need to comply with subpoenas seeking records. The panel can appeal the decision, rewrite the subpoenas or grant immunity to Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien, Wisniewski said.

“This was not a major detour; it was a traffic light,” Wisniewski said yesterday in an interview. “We’re going to continue our consultations with our counsel and decide how to go forward. It’s too early to make a decision.”

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson said that forcing Kelly, an ex-deputy chief of staff, and Stepien, a former Christie campaign manager, to turn over e-mails and other papers would violate their constitutional rights against self-incrimination. The committee failed to meet its legal burden to show with “reasonable particularity” that it’s a “foregone conclusion” that the subpoenaed documents exist, Jacobson said.

Of the 28 individuals and entities subpoenaed, a list that extends to the governor’s office and his re-election campaign, only Stepien and Kelly haven’t complied, Wisniewski said. The legislator said “none of the options are mutually exclusive” and that the committee could begin taking testimony even as it pursues challenges to the court decision.

Ulterior Reasons

The controversy over the closings, which an internal report by Christie’s lawyers blamed on unspecified “ulterior reasons,” has eaten into the Republican governor’s approval ratings and turned into the largest political stumbling block he’s faced since taking office in January 2010. Forty-nine percent of voters surveyed for an April 9 Quinnipiac University poll said they approved of Christie’s job performance, down from 55 percent in January.

The report released March 27 by law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP put the blame for the bridge lane closings on Christie aides, while presenting the governor as an active chief executive dedicated to the truth and wounded by betrayal.

Kelly sent an Aug. 13 e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein, who ordered the closings, replied: “Got it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net Mark Schoifet, Alan Goldstein