New Jersey Bridge Judge Is Asked to Keep Co-Conspirator Names Secret

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Vehicles drive over the George Washington Bridge on Aug. 16, 2011, in New York City.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Scandal accomplice on list seeks to block disclosure Friday
  • ‘Sacred right’ trumps media attention, lawyer argues

A person identified by federal prosecutors as an accomplice in the George Washington Bridge scandal filed an anonymous request to block disclosure of the identities of conspirators in the case, saying it would brand them as criminals without a fair hearing.

The emergency request on Thursday seeks to block a judge’s order for the names to be made public by noon Friday. Jenny Kramer, a Chadbourne & Parke LLP lawyer representing the person, said in the filing that the judge should at least put the release on hold while her client appeals.

The “sacred right -- the right not to be branded a criminal without due process of law -- will never be diminished, no matter how much media attention the Bridgegate fiasco attracts,” Kramer said in the filing in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

Prosecutors say allies of Governor Chris Christie created gridlock over four mornings in Fort Lee, New Jersey, by closing bridge access lane to retaliate against the town’s mayor for failing to endorse Christie for re-election in 2013. In response to a request by media organizations, including Bloomberg News, a judge ordered prosecutors to release the list of people who joined the conspiracy but weren’t charged with a crime.

Christie Fallout

Christie has denied wrongdoing, but the scandal tarnished his political prospects, serving as a drag on his failed bid for the Republican nomination for the White House. He dropped out in February and endorsed Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Trump said this week that if he wins, Christie would lead his post-election transition team.

The identities of the co-conspirators have been a mystery since May 2015, when prosecutors announced the indictment of the two former Christie allies, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni. A third defendant, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein, pleaded guilty. 

Prosecutors gave the list to lawyers for Kelly and Baroni. They also gave it to U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton, asking that the names remain confidential. On May 10, in response to the media request, Wigenton ordered the release of the list, saying the public’s right of access to the names outweighed their privacy interests. It wasn’t immediately clear how the emergency request would affect the Friday release deadline.

Prosecutor’s Stance

New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman had opposed the release, saying in court filings that the Justice Department doesn’t normally publicize the names of uncharged co-conspirators. Will Skaggs, a spokesman for Fishman, declined to comment Thursday.

The motion by Kramer said the judge’s ruling failed to consider the harm to her client in releasing names now and not at the trial of Baroni and Kelly. She said there is no “urgent need” for the media to learn the identity of the client she called John Doe, and she should get a chance to show the order was “improvidently granted.”

“While the public undoubtedly has an interest in the criminal case against Baroni and Kelly, it has no comparable interest in knowing Doe’s identity,” Kramer wrote. “To the extent any unindicted co-conspirator has taken any action relevant to the criminal case, that conduct and the actor’s identity will be learned at trial, where it can be placed in context.”

More Names

Lawyers are also wrangling over a second list of names. In a Feb. 16 court filing, prosecutors referred to people who “may have had knowledge of the conspiracy” but didn’t join as the unindicted co-conspirators did.

On March 1, Kelly attorney Michael Critchley filed a request “seeking the
identities of individuals, who were not unindicted co-conspirators, but whom
the government believed were aware of the alleged criminal conspiracy.”

Critchley withdrew his request on Thursday, saying the “government recently provided information that satisfied our request.”

The cases are North Jersey Media Group v. U.S., 16-cv-00267, and U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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