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November 4, 2016

"Bridgegate" now a federal sentencing story after two former New Jersey officials convicted on all federal counts after lengthy jury deliberations

As regular readers know, I tend to avoid discussing high-profile criminal prosecutions unless and until they become interesting or important sentencing stories.  And then, perhaps problematically, once they become notable sentencing stories, I tend to discuss the cases too much.  These tendencies are going to be on full display now that the long-running so-called "Bridgegate" scandal this morning because a great sentencing story. This CNN piece explains, while concluding with an accurate and ridiculous sentencing point:

Two former officials linked to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office were found guilty on all charges Friday in connection with the closure of lanes in 2013 on the George Washington Bridge in an act of alleged political retribution, the fallout for which has come to be known as Bridgegate. The news comes after nearly five days of deliberations from the jury.

Bridget Anne Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff to Christie, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, both faced seven counts of various charges including conspiracy, fraud, and civil rights deprivation.

The verdict is another setback in Christie's political career, following a controversy that spans nearly three years and put a significant dent in the Garden State Republican's presidential ambitions. Christie is heading planning behind Republican nominee Donald Trump's transition if he wins the presidency. CNN has reached out to the Trump campaign for comment and not yet gotten a response.

Prosecutors allege that the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge were part of a deliberate effort to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who did not endorse the Republican incumbent Christie in his 2013 re-election bid.  Emails and text messages released in January of 2014 form the basis of the charges. In one particularly damning email, Kelly told former Port Authority official David Wildstein, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."  Kelly later said her messages contained "sarcasm and humor," and she claims that she had told Christie about traffic problems resulting from a study a day prior to sending the email....

Kelly and Baroni each face a maximum sentence of 86 years, according to Paul Fishman, the federal prosecutor in the case.

Though I am disinclined to accuse federal prosecutors of "overcharging" unless and until I know all the facts, the simple fact that the conviction on all counts here even presents the possibility of a sentence of 86 years in prison leads me to be more than a bit suspicious of how the feds approached this case. That concern aside, I feel pretty certain predicting (1) that now-convicted federal felons Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni are unlikely to be sentences to more than a few years in prison, and (2) that federal prosecutors are going to be inclined to ask for a pretty lengthy prison sentence for these two because they had the temerity to contest their guilt and put the feds through the bother of a lengthy trial, and (3) that a low-profile, high-impact legal question for Kelly and Baroni is whether they will be given bail pending what could be very lengthy appeals of their multiple convictions.

I have not followed this case closely enough to even begin to figure out what the advisory guideline calculations might look like in these cases, but I would love to hear from some informed folks about what they think Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni are now facing, formally or informally, as this long-running scandal becomes a fascinating federal sentencing case.

November 4, 2016 at 12:07 PM | Permalink

Comments

Interesting. They deserve long stretches in prison--although I wonder what the exact civil right is (I assume there's a civil right involved here.) Query: will this civil right deprivation theory be applied to state university deans who violate the free speech rights of their students?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 4, 2016 12:21:37 PM

What is a long stretch, fed? 5 years? 10? 20?

And would your views here be influence by whether or not Christie ordered the crime?

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 4, 2016 1:23:23 PM

I'd be fine with 5 years. Were I the sentencing judge, 10 might be where I would land. Whether or not Christie ordered it, nope.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 4, 2016 1:37:40 PM

86 years each

Posted by: Don't Ask | Nov 4, 2016 2:05:14 PM

FWIW, the news articles are suggesting that the maximum sentence is twenty years and that the guidelines are 1-3 years. The civil rights involved apparently were the right to travel without government interference.

I think it does matter -- at least as the guidelines and most people view sentencing -- whether these two were the ones who initiated this idea or whether somebody else were running the show. (Not a complete defense, but a certain degree of mitigation.) In this case, both defendants are senior enough that any attempt to assign responsibility to Governor Christie is unlikely to merit any significant leniency. (Although I am still waiting, probably in vain, for the two presidential candidates to comment on whether they will order their Attorney General to pursue criminal charges against Governor Christie.)

Posted by: tmm | Nov 4, 2016 5:39:11 PM

The potential aggravating factors are the collateral consequences of the traffic jam, including (if I recall correctly) the death (?) of a woman whose ambulance was unable to get through traffic in time to get her to the hospital.

Posted by: guideline guru | Nov 5, 2016 11:23:54 AM

No one died as a result of the bridge closure - family members of the 91 year old woman who died do not and did not blame the bridge closure. However, as we all know, 18 USC 3661, USSG 1B1.4, Witte and Watts also note any information can be used at sentencing. It will be interesting to see what the feds pull out - traffic delays, costs associated with extra fuel, loss wages as a result of arriving late at work (good luch calculating that), etc.

Posted by: Atomicfrog | Nov 7, 2016 8:49:02 AM

This is a home confinement and probation case.

Posted by: MarK M. | Nov 7, 2016 5:07:51 PM

Since David Wildstein will serve up to 27 months, I would sentence Baroni and Kelly to no less than 3 years and 4 years minimum, respectively.

Posted by: R.E. Scott, Jr. | Nov 14, 2016 4:35:19 PM

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