New Jersey Bridge Scandal Co-Conspirators’ Names to Be Disclosedby and
Judge rejects requests to block release of list with names
Judge had moved deadline from noon Friday to noon on May 17
A list of accomplices in the George Washington Bridge scandal is set to be released by noon May 17 after a judge rejected a request to block disclosure of the identities unless an appeals court intervenes.
Jenny Kramer, a Chadbourne & Parke LLP lawyer, filed an emergency request Thursday from one of the people whose identity would be disclosed. She asked that the judge at least put the release on hold while her client, identified only as John Doe, 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.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton on Friday rejected Kramer’s request, saying she had thoroughly considered Doe’s privacy interests. The judge had earlier extended the deadline for the release of the names from noon Friday to noon on May 17.
“This court does not take the identification of unindicted co-conspirators lightly, recognizing the possible reputational consequences of such a revelation,” the judge wrote.
Prosecutors say allies of Governor Chris Christie created gridlock over four mornings in Fort Lee, New Jersey, by closing bridge access lanes 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 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 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.
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. Fishman in a letter Friday didn’t oppose John Doe’s request to intervene.
Will Skaggs, a spokesman for Fishman, said his office intends to comply with the judge’s order by the May 17 deadline.
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 her client 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.”
Kramer appealed Wigenton’s ruling late Friday with a notice to the court of appeals in Philadelphia.
The news organizations that sought the names of the unindicted co-conspirators opposed John Doe’s request, calling it a "frivolous and desperate attempt" made by someone who failed to ask the court to stop the release until after the judge’s order. They also said the notion that the person will be "branded a felon" is without merit given that an unindicted co-conspirator is by definition someone who is not charged with a crime and because John Doe has conceded his name may come out at trial.
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’s 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).