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Supreme Court to weigh ‘Bridgegate’ appeal in 2 weeks

May 28, 2019
FILE – This combination of March 29, 2017, file photos shows Bridget Kelly, left, leaving federal court after sentencing, and Bill Baroni, leaving federal court after sentencing in Newark, N.J. The U.S. Supreme Court has set a date for when it will consider whether to hear the appeal of convicted "Bridgegate" defendants. They were convicted in 2016 on multiple counts of fraud and civil rights violations for realigning the lanes, without telling local officials, to punish Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for not endorsing their boss, Republican Gov. Chris Christie. (AP Photos/Julio Cortez, File)

The U.S. Supreme Court has set a date for when it will consider whether to hear the appeal of convicted “Bridgegate” defendants Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni.

On Tuesday the court set a conference for June 13 to consider briefs filed over the last few months. That means the high court could decide as early as the following week.

If it grants the request, it could hear oral arguments in the fall, which would mark six years since traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge were realigned, plunging the town of Fort Lee into four days of gridlock.

Kelly and Baroni were convicted in 2016 on multiple counts of fraud and civil rights violations for realigning the lanes, without telling local officials, to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing their boss, Republican Gov. Chris Christie. They claimed the realignment in 2013 was part of a traffic study.

Kelly authored the infamous, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email to David Wildstein, a third co-conspirator. Wildstein, who worked for Baroni at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, pleaded guilty. Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff.

Christie wasn’t charged, but the subsequent scandal dragged down his 2016 presidential hopes.

In a reply brief filed with the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Kelly’s attorneys argued that she — and, by extension, Baroni — can’t be prosecuted for hiding their political intent, because the actions they took were otherwise lawful. Baroni is currently serving a prison term but joined the appeal in March.

Prosecuting those who purport to act in the public interest while concealing a political intent “invites indictment of every public official who justifies her actions on policy grounds without confessing the base political calculus that lies beneath,” her attorneys wrote. “Which is to say, every official. From the mayor who approves a grant to help a political supporter, to the state official who orders an environmental study to please an interest group, to the federal prosecutor who pursues a case to boost his own political ambitions.”

The U.S. solicitor general’s office filed a brief this month urging the court not to hear the case, arguing in part that the pair’s convictions should stand because, regardless of their political intent, they duped Port Authority employees into committing time and resources to the scheme by telling them it was a traffic study, costing the agency thousands of dollars in overtime.

A federal appeals court threw out both defendants’ civil rights convictions last fall but upheld the fraud counts.

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