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November 8, 2016

Is the likely federal sentencing guideline range for "Bridgegate" defendants convicted last week at least 3 to 4 years in federal prison?

As noted in this prior post, late last week a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against Bridget Anne Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff to NJ Gov Chris Christie, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on seven federal criminal charges stemming from the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal.  This Wikipedia page provides lots of background on the scandal, and this lengthy New York Times article about the convictions provides these hints about the federal sentencing issues to now be debated as a February sentencing for Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni looms:

A federal jury convicted two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie on Friday of all charges stemming from a bizarre scheme to close access lanes at the George Washington Bridge to punish a New Jersey mayor who declined to endorse the governor’s re-election.  Though only the two defendants, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, were tried in the so-called Bridgegate case, the scandal surrounding the lane closings in September 2013 left Mr. Christie deeply wounded....

David Wildstein, who was installed as the governor’s enforcer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, pleaded guilty to orchestrating the lane closings and became the prosecution’s chief witness....

Facing about 50 reporters and television cameras outside the federal courthouse here on Friday, the United States attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, said that his office brought charges against only the people it believed a jury would find guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  There was substantial documentary evidence, he said, to corroborate Mr. Wildstein’s testimony about Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni, once Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority....

The convictions carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but under federal guidelines, Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni are likely to get far less time.  Mr. Fishman said Friday that under federal guidelines, Mr. Wildstein would be sentenced to 20 to 27 months in prison, but that he was likely to get “credit” from the judge for his cooperation. Prosecutors were likely to recommend longer terms for Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly, Mr. Fishman said, because they did not accept responsibility for their crimes and because prosecutors believe that they did not testify truthfully.

Judge Susan D. Wigenton set sentencing for Feb. 21.

I found at this link a copy of the plea agreement in which Mr. Wildstein agreed to plead guilty to two counts and to have his guideline calculation add up to an offense level 16 (including a three-point downward adjustment for acceptance of responsibility).  Such an offense level for a first offender accounts for his applicable guideline range being set at 21-27 months before he gets any further cooperation credit for his substantial assistance in the prosecution of Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni.  Assuming the same basic guideline calculations for Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly, but now without any benefit for acceptance of responsibility AND with a two-point enhancement for obstruction of justice based on testifying falsely, it seem they are facing an offense level of 21 (at least), and thus looking at an advisory guideline range of 37-46 months (at the lowest).

I can certainly imagine all sorts of arguments that could possibly be made by federal prosecutors to try to drive up the applicable guideline range further, but I suspect that USA Paul Fishman and his line prosecutors will be content to argue for a federal prison sentence in the range of three to four years.  I would also expect that defense attorneys for Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni will look for ways to contest any guideline range enhancement and will also advocate forcefully under the provisions of 18 USC 3553(a) for a sentence below whatever the guideline range is calculated to be. 

Because I am going to be turning this real case into a real-world teaching exercise in my sentencing class, I would be grateful to have informed (or even uniformed) folks provide any insights or ideas about how they expect the sentencing for Ms. Kelly and Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein to play out in the week ahead.

Prior related post:

November 8, 2016 at 11:59 AM | Permalink


Love to see this newfound concern for civil rights expand to situations where public universities violate the First Amendment rights of students.

Anyone have any thoughts on the expansiveness of the legal theory here--like I said, I think they need to get hammered.

Bonus question--how much time should the Park Police at Yellowstone get for locking people in their Yellowstone hotel during the government shutdown? OR the people that threw people out of property they rented during the government shutdown?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 8, 2016 12:24:41 PM

I was talking with my students just today in my sentencing class, federalist, about whether they thought it obvious that the alleged behavior constituted a federal crime that justified expending significant federal prosecutorial resources.

But do you think the defendants will have any real shot at a Yates-type reversal here? I presume they will appeal on these kinds of legal grounds to the Third Circuit and SCOTUS, but I would not be optimistic about their chances. Are you?

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 8, 2016 2:17:24 PM

"thought it obvious"---translation--didn't do the legal research.

I don't have an informed opinion.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 8, 2016 3:22:04 PM

I have reviewed the case in detail but I fail too see how the indictments here were sweeping and I certainly don't see how based upon what I have read in the news any 1A issues are at play. So could someone explain to me how Yates even applies here..

"I was talking with my students just today in my sentencing class, federalist, about whether they thought it obvious that the alleged behavior constituted a federal crime that justified expending significant federal prosecutorial resource."

Based upon the way this case has been framed in the press I answer your question with a firm YES.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 8, 2016 3:26:42 PM

That first sentence should read "have NOT reviewed"

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 8, 2016 3:27:47 PM

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