Bridge Juror Felt ‘Overwhelmed’ Amid Deliberations, Records ShowBy
Judge releases sealed filings after sentencing Kelly, Baroni
Defense sought mistrial because of juror’s contacts with court
One of the juror’s who convicted two allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told the judge’s staff of feeling “overwhelmed” during deliberations and wanting to quit the panel, according to newly unsealed court documents.
The juror’s personal crisis came as the 12-member panel was weighing evidence against Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, who were accused of closing access lanes near the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election. Kelly and Baroni were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison.
Court filings unsealed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark show that the unidentified juror sent a text message to a member of the judge’s staff at 7:01 a.m. on Nov. 2. The juror wanted to meet the judge before deliberations began. An hour later, the staffer asked what was the problem.
“I want to request to be dismissed from being a juror,” the juror replied, according to the documents. After the court employee asked some questions, the judge directed her and a clerk to “just make sure” the juror was OK and “there was not some serious issue,” according to a Nov. 3 filing by Baroni’s lawyer, Michael Baldassare, seeking a mistrial.
The two employees then apparently had other communications with the juror outside of the presence of the lawyers, who are supposed to be present for any communications with a jury member, Baldassare wrote. Wigenton then told lawyers in the case that the juror was “very distraught, very emotional” and could not proceed, the defense lawyer wrote.
In their filing on Nov. 3, prosecutors said that juror was “overwhelmed by the responsibility of rendering a verdict.” The juror also told the other 11 panelists about feeling overwhelmed and asking to be dismissed, according to the U.S. filing.
But Wigenton denied the mistrial motion, after determining the juror “was capable of participating in deliberations and could follow the court’s instructions,” prosecutors wrote. The U.S. urged Wigenton to tell jurors to resume deliberations on Nov. 3, which they did that day. On Nov. 4, they convicted Kelly and Baroni of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights charges.
On March 29, Wigenton sentenced Baroni to two years in prison and Kelly to 18 months, slamming the political culture created by Christie, whose aspirations for the Republican presidential nomination last year were thwarted by the bridge scandal. Both Baroni and Kelly are appealing. They have said they intend to raise Wigenton’s handling of the juror on appeal.
The filings were among 22 documents released that were sealed or redacted during the trial by Wigenton. A group of media organizations, including Bloomberg News, sought access to the documents. Some of the 434 pages were entirely blacked out, and in some cases small sections that had been redacted were unsealed.
The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).