Bridge Jam Case Prosecutors Seek Witness Privacy Protection

Updated on

Prosecutors who charged two former allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge traffic-jam case don’t want defense lawyers to disclose secret information before trial without permission.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman asked a judge to require lawyers for Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni to notify prosecutors three days before filing motions that may reveal confidential material gathered during a 16-month probe. If prosecutors object, a judge would decide what can be made public, according to the filing Tuesday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

Kelly, Christie’s ex-deputy chief of staff, and Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, are accused of plotting to close access lanes to the bridge in 2013 to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not backing Christie’s re-election. Former Port Authority official David Wildstein has pleaded guilty.

The scandal has hurt Christie, a Republican, as he weighs a White House run in 2016 and led to speculation about who in his administration played a role in the lane closures. Fishman’s filing cited the “significant privacy interests of numerous uncharged persons.”

Personal Information

A protective order would shield them from “disclosure of irrelevant, personal and potentially embarrassing information, and avoid fueling public conjecture regarding the actions, roles or identities of uncharged individuals,” according to the filing.

Such an order would give defense lawyers immediate access to 1.5 million pages of investigative material, prosecutors wrote, and allow them to begin reviewing evidence without waiting for prosecutors to redact sensitive information.

Fishman told reporters Wednesday at an unrelated news conference that some material “may contain information that is particularly private -- personal e-mail addresses or other personal information about their lives or relationships.”

Kelly attorney Michael Critchley said in a phone interview: “I want to reserve our rights and present our issues to the court.”

Baroni attorney Michael Baldassare said he’ll “fight this attempt to the bitter end.”

“The government wants to pick and choose what becomes public in this case,” he said in a phone interview. “That’s not how our system works.”

Earlier this year, Baldassare represented Joseph Ferriero, a former chairman of the Bergen County Democratic Organization, in a political corruption case. His pre-trial filings included extensive grand jury testimony.

The testimony focused in part on the role of Democrat Bob Menendez, then in the House of Representatives, in helping a Virginia developer win a key U.S. approval a decade ago as it sought to build a mall in New Jersey. Ferriero was convicted. Menendez, now a U.S. senator, wasn’t charged. He was indicted April 1 in a separate bribery case and denies wrongdoing.

The cases are U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, and U.S. v. Wildstein, 15-cr-00209, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).