TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Six New Jersey residents have now filed a federal lawsuit over the traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge last September, which e-mails suggested were motivated by political payback.
The suit filed in federal court Thursday appeared to be the first civil claim over traffic jams that appear to have been intended as political punishment against the Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who did not support Gov. Chris Christie’s bid for reelection.
The suit named Christie, the State of New Jersey, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as defendants, among others.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, the lawsuit claimed the governor and agencies “deprived them of life, liberty and property” because they were “trapped on local roads” during the road closures, resulting in their being late for work and ending up with docked pay.
The plaintiffs want it certified as a class action.
Attorney Rosemarie Arnold said she filed the suit after learning this week that lane closures on an approach to the George Washington Bridge were “deliberate actions.” She said that her clients were late for work and that one suffered a panic attack.
“She was able to get out of the car, she threw up, but she couldn’t just leave the car there, so she had to stay,” Arnold told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
Christie on Thursday denied involvement with the scandal.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue. In this planning, or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncovered, this was handled in a callous and indifferent way,” Christie said.
Christie said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly “because she lied to me” when he demanded weeks ago that anyone who knew anything about the episode come forward. E-mails showed Kelly wrote an e-mail to a Port Authority official saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Christie said during a nearly two-hour long news conference Thursday in Trenton. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for their appropriate role of government and for the people that we’re trusted to serve.”
Arnold said the question of whether or not Christie knew anything about the lane closures was irrelevant.
“It doesn’t matter at all to the lawsuit whether knew personally or not. As he says, this is his fault,” she said. “It’s his administration. It’s his responsibility.”
Christie accepted responsibility for the incident as governor, as he spoke to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. He earlier said Sokolich was not someone he would even be able to pick out of a lineup.
“I asked him, ‘Governor, am I on your radar now?’ And I think his answer was something along the line we now have our own radar screen,” Sokolich said.
Christie’s spokesman did not respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
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