A former ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, serving an 18-month prison sentence for his role in the Bridegate scandal, has requested that he be released from federal prison after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Bill Baroni, a former Republican state lawmaker who served as Christie’s deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, asked U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton to set bail and allow him to leave the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pa. Federal prosecutors did not oppose the request.
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“In light of the Supreme Court’s action, Baroni respectfully requests that this Court immediately release him on bail, pursuant to the same bail conditions that were in place prior to his surrender to serve his sentence,” attorneys Stephen M. Orlofsky and Michael A. Levy wrote in a six-page memo to Wigenton, who sits in Newark, N.J.
Baroni and his co-defendant, former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, were convicted in 2016 for their roles in the scandal. They worked with a third conspirator — David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who pleaded guilty and testified against them — to orchestrate the political retribution scheme.
Over the course of several days in September 2013, the three closed off two local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge during the morning commute, clogging roads for hours in the densely-populated Bergen County, N.J., town of Fort Lee. Wildstein, who received probation, said the stunt was designed to punish the town’s Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign.
Baroni, the highest ranking official directly accused of having a role in the political stunt, had all but given up on his case earlier this year after a federal appeals court declined to reconsider an appeal. He was resentenced in February, after an appeals court tossed some charges against them, and reported to prison in April.
But Kelly pressed on to the Supreme Court, while Baroni remained a party to the case. In a decision that stunned legal observers — and came just two weeks before Kelly was set to start serving her 13-month sentence — the court agreed last week to consider the appeal during its next term.
Kelly is also likely to request a delay in her prison sentence pending the appeal, which the Supreme Court is expected to hear by the end of the year.
In their brief to Wigenton on Monday, Baroni’s attorneys said he did not file an additional petition to the Supreme Court because it may have delayed the justices’ decision on whether to take the case. Instead, he took advantage of a rule that affords “respondents in the case with the right to participate in the case and to receive any relief from the Supreme Court’s decision in the case.”
“Following resentencing, Baroni was still well within his time to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari,” the attorneys wrote. “However, Baroni was aware that (1) the briefing schedule that had been established by Kelly’s earlier petition would permit the Supreme Court to rule on the petition in June, prior to the Supreme Court’s lengthy summer recess, and (2) if Baroni filed his own petition, he would restart the briefing schedule on both petitions and the Supreme Court would not render its decision until months later in October.”
Kelly, 46, and Baroni, 47, will argue to the Supreme Court that the case misapplied federal fraud statutes to ordinary political conduct.
“If there is one thing this country does not need right now, it is a rule of law allowing a public official to be locked up based on a jury determination that she ‘lied’ by purporting to act in the public interest or by concealing her ‘political’ purposes,” attorneys Michael Critchley and Yaakov M. Roth argued in their brief to petition the court to hear the case. “There is no end to the (bipartisan) mischief such a regime would facilitate, or the chilling effect it would carry.”
While both Baroni and Kelly have maintained they did not know the true reason for lane closures, believing them to be part of a traffic study, Kelly testified under oath that Christie knew about the plan ahead of time. Wildstein also testified, based on a conversation he and Baroni had with Christie at a Sept. 11 memorial during the lane closures, that the then-governor did know about the lane closures and why they were occurring.
Christie, who is now an attorney in private practice and a pundit on ABC News, has consistently denied having any role in the scheme or being aware of its existence.