A New Jersey legislative committee will have to wait a while before getting its hands on emails and text messages from two central figures in the investigation into why allies of Gov. Chris Christie ordered lanes closed at the George Washington Bridge.
A judge heard arguments for three hours Tuesday but did not rule on whether to enforce subpoenas against the two figures, former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien.
Kelly and Stepien invoked their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and went to court to argue that the subpoenas are too broad.
Reid Schar, a lawyer for the legislative committee, told the judge that the subpoenas “are not fishing expeditions of any sort.”
Judge Mary Jacobson of state court there were “very important issues of constitutional significance and significance to our democratic process” to consider, and that it would take a while.
Federal prosecutors are also investigating whether the lane closings, which swamped the city of Fort Lee with traffic for four days in September, broke the law.
Mel Evans / Pool via AP
Bridget Kelly, Gov. Chris Christie's former deputy chief of staff, in court Tuesday.
The governor fired Kelly and Stepien in January, when documents surfaced showing that Christie allies, in his administration and at the bridge-controlling Port Authority, engineered the lane closings. Those documents included an infamous email from Kelly to a Port Authority executive in August: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The committee wants more emails and text messages from Kelly and Stepien to determine what came before.
“It didn’t come out of thin air,” Judge Mary Jacobson said of the email.
But a lawyer for Kelly, Michael Critchley, wouldn’t even concede in court that Kelly sent the email, or that it was referring to the George Washington Bridge. To do so, he said, would be to incriminate his client.
Kelly was in court for the proceeding, while Stepien was not.
Almost 50 protesters gathered outside the courthouse, chanting and carrying anti-Christie signs, as Kelly arrived. Kelly did not speak to reporters as she walked into the courthouse.
Christie, a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has said that he knew nothing of a plot to close the lanes. The mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, had declined to endorse Christie for re-election, but the explanation for the lane closings has never been made clear.
— Erin McClam
First published March 11 2014, 6:20 AM