NEWARK, N.J. – Jurors went back to work on deliberations in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial Wednesday, a day after they appeared to be wrestling with the law surrounding the top two counts in the indictment against two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, civil rights violations and misusing the bridge to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Christie by causing traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee.
They testified during the trial that they thought the closure of access lanes was part of a traffic study concocted by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty. Wildstein testified that both defendants were aware of the plan to punish Mayor Mark Sokolich.
On their first full day of deliberations Tuesday, jurors asked the judge if they could convict the defendants of causing the traffic jams if they acquitted them of the conspiracy count — and vice versa — and if they needed to reach a verdict on the top conspiracy count before moving on to the other counts.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton said she would tell them each count could be considered individually.
They also asked if they could convict the defendants of conspiracy if the lane closures were not meant to punish the mayor. That was a point of bitter contention between defense attorneys and prosecutors, with lawyers for Kelly and Baroni arguing last week that jurors should be told that if the government did not prove the defendants took part in a retaliation plot, they could find them not guilty.
Wigenton disagreed, ruling that motive was not an element that had to be proved by the government.
That led to Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, accusing the judge of "directing a verdict of guilty."