Lawyers for Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, Gov. Chris Christie’s former associates convicted of Bridgegate’s political retaliation program, argued in the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday that prosecutors had broken the law by bringing charges. criminal proceedings against them.
They said the fraud statutes used to convict the two members of Christie’s inner circle were not intended to be used to prosecute political corruption.
âBridgegate is a case of bare-handed politics in New Jersey, not corruption,â Baroni’s lawyers wrote in a High Court brief.
The Supreme Court agreed in June to review the case – just weeks before Kelly appeared in federal prison. Baroni, who had already started his prison term, was released on bail after the court agreed to take up the case.
Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Christie, and Baroni, who was deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were convicted in November 2016 of planning to close several access routes locals at the George Washington Bridge toll booth for four days in 2013 in a bizarre political vendetta that led to massive traffic jams at Fort Lee.
Federal prosecutors said the traffic diversion on the world’s busiest bridge was meant to send a message to borough mayor Mark Sokolich after the Democratic official reversed course on an overdue approval of Christie, a Republican, during the governor’s re-election campaign in 2013.
The plot became widely known as Bridgegate.
âThe alleged conduct here was petty, callous and misguided. But in our system, political abuse of power is treated politically, âKelly’s lawyers said. âProsecutors may try to supplement the political backlash with criminal penalties, particularly when public anger peaks in vitriol. But the role of the courts is to ensure that this anger is channeled in accordance with the rule of law – to ensure fairness for these defendants and, more importantly, to prevent wrongdoing in the future. “
They said the rule of law in this case requires the convictions to be overturned.
“The court should order exactly that,” wrote his lawyers, including Jones Day’s Yaakov M. Roth, the case attorney, and Michael Critchley. They said that upholding the verdicts “would make it easy for supporters not only to harangue and harass political opponents, but also to prosecute and imprison them.”
Kelly was the author of the now infamous ‘Fort Lee Traffic Trouble Time’ email, sent shortly before the orange cones hit the bridge’s local toll lanes. It was a message that prosecutors pointed to as a smoking gun in the case and was a key piece of evidence used against her.
Christie has never been charged with wrongdoing and has denied any knowledge of the plan, although the incident weighed heavily on the failure of his 2016 presidential campaign.
The question in court is whether a public official can defraud the government by lying about the real reason for a public policy decision.
In their court documents, lawyers for Kelly and Baroni said what happened at the bridge toll booth was not a federal crime and prosecutors criminalized routine political behavior.
“The ordinary money and property fraud laws used here do not, by their terms, cover such conduct, have never before been used to prosecute such conduct, and the fundamental principles of vagueness, Leniency and federalism make it clear that they cannot be extended by courts or prosecutors to criminalize such conduct, âsaid Baroni’s attorneys, including Michael A. Levy of Sidley Austin, as a registered attorney.
They said that if the government can convict a public official for fraudulently depriving a public agency of money or property simply for using his agency’s resources “with a hidden political motive,” then the federal government will have carte blanche to indict and convict officials in every way. political deals, favors and reproaches, unless these officials are “brutally frank” about their real political motives.
“If the government wins, ‘the room where it happens’ will become a crime scene,” Baroni’s lawyers wrote, referring to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song, the Broadway hit “Hamilton”, regarding a secret deal between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office, which continued the case, will file its briefs with the court next month. No date has yet been set for oral argument in the case.
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