TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s now up to a judge to decide whether two key figures in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal will have to turn over text messages and other private communications to lawmakers investigating the case.
Lawyers for fired Christie aide Bridget Kelly and two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien argued Tuesday that complying with the subpoenas carries the risk of self-incrimination.
“This is about the ability of the government to call someone to be a witness against themselves,” Kevin Marino, Stepien’s lawyer, told reporters outside court.
Lawyers for the legislative panel counter that documents released so far make it reasonable that other correspondence exists and should be turned over.
“These subpoenas are not fishing expeditions of any sort,” attorney Reid Schar told the judge. “Quite the opposite. We have, in fact, presented to your honor communications both from Mr. Stepien and Ms. Kelly or between them on this very topic.”
But the judge raised concerns over digging into every communication Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, may have, including handwritten notes.
“There is a federal investigation that is ongoing into the lane closures for the GW Bridge,” Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson told lawyers for the committee. “And you argue that it’s not reasonable for them to fear prosecution, and it’s sort of hard to take that position.”
As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, Kelly listened attentively to complex legal arguments for three hours but did not speak.
While Stepien elected not to appear, Kelly’s attorney, Michael Critchley, said it was important to her to attend the hearing.
“Her life has been affected dramatically, and today the court was going to discuss an issue of significance that affected her life and she wanted to be here,” he said outside court.
“She’s a 42-year-old single mom with four children trying to make due in a difficult time,” Critchley added. “She’s unemployed.”
Marino told reporters, including CBS 2’s Christine Sloan, he feels “very strongly that Bill Stepien is an innocent man — an innocent man who is being ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.”
The judge will issue a ruling at a later date. Members of the committee said they anticipate a decision before the end of the month.
The subpoenas seek documents involving the lane closures leading to the bridge during four days in September, creative gridlock in Fort Lee, apparently to punish the town’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Gov. Chris Christie for re-election.
Kelly was fired in January after emails obtained earlier in the investigation showed she set the lane closings in motion with a message: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The response, “got it,” came from David Wildstein, another Christie loyalist who worked at the Port Authority. He resigned in December.
Christie has said he knew nothing of the plot’s planning or execution. In all, five people close to Christie have been fired or resigned.
Some 32 people or organizations close to the governor, including his re-election campaign and the Republican State Committee, have been subpoenaed. All but Kelly and Stepien have complied or are in the process of producing documents.
A parallel criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office seeks to uncover whether federal laws were broken.
The legislative panel wants to find out how high up Christie’s chain of command the lane-closing scheme went and why it was hatched.
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