NEWARK, N.J. – A federal appeals court on Tuesday delayed the release of a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal as it considers whether to allow someone named on the list to block its publication.
The ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia called for June 6 oral arguments from attorneys for the unidentified person, referred to as John Doe, and from several media organizations, including The Associated Press, that are seeking access to the list.
Tuesday's ruling left open the possibility that the hearing could be closed to the public.
Bridget Kelly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee to the agency that operates the bridge, face wire fraud and civil rights charges. A second former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official, David Wildstein, has pleaded guilty.
They were charged with conspiring to create traffic jams near the bridge in Fort Lee to punish the town's Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie's re-election.
Christie has disavowed any knowledge of the scheme and hasn't been charged.
One of the 24 judges sitting on the 3rd Circuit bench is Maryanne Trump Barry, sister of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. It isn't clear if Trump Barry will recuse herself from the matter since Donald Trump recently named Christie to head his transition team. A panel of three judges will hear the case.
The court also on Tuesday ordered that both sides' briefs be filed under seal, meaning they won't be publicly available. An attorney for the media organizations filed papers later Tuesday requesting a modification of the order and release of the list with John Doe's name blacked out.
The indictment alleges Kelly and Baroni conspired "with each other and others, including Wildstein." Defense attorneys have been furnished with the names of the other co-conspirators as part of routine pretrial discovery. The media organizations filed a request for the list several months ago.
Unindicted co-conspirators are people who were involved in a conspiracy to commit a crime but haven't been criminally charged, usually because they are cooperating with the government or prosecutors feel they don't have enough evidence to convict them.
A federal judge ruled last week that the list should be released by noon Tuesday. The same judge on Friday denied a request by John Doe to further delay the release of names of unindicted co-conspirators in the plot. Doe then appealed to the 3rd Circuit.
Doe's attorney, Jenny Kramer, has argued in court filings that Doe would be "publicly branded a felon" without the chance to clear his name in court, violating his rights to due process.
Bruce Rosen, an attorney for the media companies, called Doe's attempt "frivolous and desperate" in a response filing and argued the due process clause doesn't protect a person's reputation. He also wrote that names of unindicted co-conspirators often are revealed during a trial anyway.