Bridgegate convictions of Baroni, Kelly thrown out by U.S. Supreme Court (UPDATED)

By Tom Bergeron
Fort Lee | May 7, 2020 at 10:49 am
Updated

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the Bridgegate convictions of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly should be thrown out, ruling the two were guilty of political corruption, but not a crime.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the opinion for the court, made it clear Baroni and Kelly committed wrongdoings.

“The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power,” she wrote. “But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”

Kelly, who served as deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, and Baroni, a former Republican state senator and Christie confidant, were found guilty in November 2016 of fraud and conspiracy in connection with a scheme to purposely tie up traffic around the George Washington Bridge.

The action supposedly was taken to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not supporting Christie’s reelection campaign. The justices ruled their actions were not criminal because they did not obtain money or property.

“Baroni and Kelly used deception to reduce Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge — and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents,” Kagan wrote. “But not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime. Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal program fraud or wire fraud laws.”

Kelly had been sentenced to 13 months in prison. She remained free after her sentencing pending her appeal.

Baroni received an 18-month term and opted to report to prison, but he was released on bail in July 2019 after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. He had served less than three months.

Baroni, in a lengthy statement that included his plans to help others who are incarcerated, was obviously thrilled by the news.

“After years of investigations, indictments, trials, appeals and even prison, today the Court has vindicated me and has made clear that I committed no crime,” he said. “I have always said I was an innocent and, today, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed.

“These have been very difficult years for me, my family and my friends. There were many tough days, and it was their faith in me and my innocence that allowed me to get through this.”

Christie, meanwhile, released a statement harshly criticizing former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman after the decision. Christie previously served as a U.S. attorney:

“The unanimous decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court ends a 6.5-year political crusade by former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the Obama Justice Department against Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and dozens of members of my administration. As many contended from the beginning, and as the court confirmed today, no federal crimes were ever committed in this matter by anyone in my administration. It is good for all involved that today justice has finally been done.

“What cannot be undone is the damage that was visited upon all of the people dragged through the mud who had nothing to do with this incident by the prosecutorial misconduct and personal vindictiveness of Paul Fishman. Despite being repeatedly told by numerous respected members of the bar during the investigation that he was inventing a federal crime, Paul Fishman proceeded, motivated by political partisanship and blind ambition that cost the taxpayers millions in legal fees and changed the course of history. Worst of all, Fishman allowed Bill Baroni to go to jail for federal crimes he invented.

“The leadership of the Obama Justice Department is also culpable for allowing this misconduct to happen right under their noses, authorizing Paul Fishman to weaponize the office for political and partisan reasons.

“There are no words of apology that would be sufficient to the right the wrongs that were committed by Paul Fishman. From the very first day of his involvement, he was determined to damage the reputations of as many members of our administration as he could. This case was driven by a U.S. attorney and Justice Department in search of a predetermined and biased outcome. In recklessly pursuing that outcome, they violated the oath sworn by every member of the Department of Justice.”

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