NEWARK, New Jersey — The two former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie charged in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case will get a second chance to force the release of documents from the law firm whose taxpayer-funded 2014 report absolved Christie of blame.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton on Friday said attorneys for Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly can subpoena the Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher law firm for what they contend are thousands of pages of relevant documents, particularly communications between people in Christie's office and the bridge's operator during the September 2013 closures.
In its response to a grand jury subpoena by the U.S. attorney's office when it was assembling the indictment, the firm provided a list of documents — some thousands of pages long, defense lawyers say — that the firm said were privileged communications by Christie staffers that couldn't be released.
Baroni and Kelly were indicted last spring on wire fraud, civil rights and other charges for allegedly orchestrating the closures of access lanes to the bridge to punish a mayor for not endorsing Christie's re-election.
Their trial is scheduled for mid-May.
Christie, who hasn't been charged, is vying for the Republican presidential nomination and is in New Hampshire this week in advance of Tuesday's primary — the results of which could determine if he remains in the race.
Kelly was Christie's deputy chief of staff and Baroni was a top Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge. Baroni said after Friday's hearing he was "very encouraged" by the judge's ruling. Kelly didn't comment.
"The significance of today is that we were permitted to pursue Gibson Dunn," Michael Baldassare, Baroni's attorney, said. "The judge agreed that it was appropriate and important to Mr. Baroni's right to fundamental fairness."
In a ruling in December, Wigenton said Gibson Dunn didn't have to turn over interview notes from its 2014 report but also criticized what she called the firm's "unorthodox" method of overwriting interview notes and drafts in real time, calling it "opacity and gamesmanship."
That report is significant because it concluded that Kelly and former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty in the case, were behind the closures and not Baroni.
In an emailed statement, Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro, who spearheaded the firm's investigation into the bridge scandal, wrote that "contrary to the claims made by criminal defense counsel, the Governor's office did not withhold and log as privileged any documents relating to the GWB lane alignment, so there are no other documents to produce in that regard."
Several factors could contribute to the trial date being pushed back. Kelly and Baroni filed lengthy motions to dismiss the indictment this week, and Wigenton also must rule on whether the Port Authority can bar access to a memo it received from Gibson Dunn on how to respond to a subpoena in a separate investigation.
The sheer amount of documents the defense could receive if its subpoena is successful, and the time it would take to review them, also could slow the process.