Political News

Jury seated for George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial

Posted September 14

— A jury was selected on Wednesday for next week's trial of two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie who are charged with deliberately causing traffic gridlock at the George Washington Bridge as part of a political vendetta.

The panel will hear opening statements on Monday in federal court in Newark. The trial is expected to last at least six weeks.

Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly are accused of reducing access lanes to the bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013 to punish the town's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie. The bridge, one of the busiest in the world, links Fort Lee and New York City.

Prosecutors are expected to introduce texts and emails showing the defendants joking about the traffic chaos they had wrought even as the mayor's pleas for help went unanswered.

Kelly was Christie's deputy chief of staff and was the author of an email saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

She and Baroni face identical counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, deprivation of civil rights and misusing an organization receiving federal funds. The organization is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs area bridges, tunnels and transit hubs and is where Baroni served as a Christie-appointed deputy executive director.

Kelly and Baroni, who have pleaded not guilty, have said in court filings that the government has twisted federal law to turn their actions into crimes. They also have said other people with more power and influence were involved but aren't being prosecuted.

Christie, who failed in a 2016 presidential bid, has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the bridge scheme, and a taxpayer-funded report he commissioned absolved him of wrongdoing. He wasn't charged but is sure to be mentioned during the trial and could be subpoenaed to testify.

A former political blogger and high school friend of Christie's who also worked for the Port Authority, David Wildstein, has pleaded guilty and will testify for the government.

The 12-member jury, part of an original pool of more than 200 people, survived individual questioning by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton and several rounds of challenges in which attorneys dismissed potential jurors without having to give reasons.

The judge also dismissed several jurors who indicated they couldn't set aside their personal feelings about the scandal.

Several, including some who made the final cut, expressed strong opinions about Christie. Among two selected were a woman who wrote on her questionnaire that she "doesn't like Chris Christie" and a man told the judge he didn't like videos he'd seen of the often combative governor "jumping down people's throats."

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