Supreme Court appears skeptical of crimes in 'Bridgegate' scandal

Traffic crosses the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee N.J

Though the outcome was far from certain, a number of justices seemed to think that prosecutors abused federal anti-corruption statutes to obtain indictments against Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of NY and New Jersey, and Bridget Kelly, the governor's deputy chief of staff. Kelly and Baroni say prosecutors are criminalizing bare-knuckle politics. Christie sat in front of Kelly, who has been sentenced to 13 months in prison for her role in the scandal. The appeal followed a decision in favor of the plaintiff where the court awarded ninety-thousand dollars for unjust enrichment. Baroni had begun serving his 18-month sentence but was released from prison after the high court agreed to weigh in. When reporters noted that she traveled to D.C. on the train with Christie, Kelly, who's accused Christie of scapegoating her, replied this way.

That history presented a dramatic backdrop when the two arrived in Washington this week.

The court is considering whether to reverse the fraud convictions of Kelly and Baroni.

"I hope he had a harder time seeing me than I had seeing him", Kelly said after the hearing when asked about seeing her old boss in the courtroom.

Legal arguments by Kelly and Baroni focused on technical interpretations of federal fraud statutes, laws that the high court has increasingly narrowed in recent years. The Philadelphia U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently tossed out the appeals. "Diminishing the jury's power to check corruption, as corruption expands, is not a prescription for a healthy democracy". Otherwise, he said, they could be reined in by state laws or punished at the ballot box. A jury found them guilty. In this case, Christie's presidential ambitions were derailed.

What makes the situation controversial is the fraud cases generally accuse public officials of public funds to line their own pockets, and there is no such guarantee in this situation.

Prosecutors said both dedicated fraud under national law in lying in their motive for shutting the bridge by asserting they were running a traffic analysis, which enabled them to hijack Port Authority resources. The agency's executive director is appointed by New York's governor and its deputy executive director, the position Baroni held, had been appointed by New Jersey's governor, though the position no longer exists. Our country and its political environment are worse for it.

"Their actions in this case were fraud in just the same way that it would be fraud for someone with no connection to the Port Authority to impersonate Port Authority supervisors and order Port Authority employees to realign Port Authority lanes", he said. Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to wonder if it was a crime at all. Supreme Court Tuesday as the justices heard oral arguments in the appeal of the Bridgegate case.

Deputy Solicitor General Eric Feigin argued on behalf of the government that it was Baroni and Kelly's lying, which led to the lane shifts, that constituted fraud.

"Isn't it often the case that somebody who has the authority to do something may lie about why the person is doing the thing because, if the real reason was exposed, it would cause a furor, people would be angry?"

Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that "money is property and [state] money was lost" here. "But that doesn't show the person doesn't have the authority to do it".

A decision on the case will be announced by late June.



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