After verdict in bridge scandal trial, what comes next?

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A federal jury’s verdict Friday convicting two former insiders from Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in a political retaliation plot to tie up traffic at the George Washington Bridge is far from the last legal development in the case.

The verdict and possibly several other rulings by the judge during the trial will be appealed, a process that could stretch several months or longer.

A look at what’s next:

 

CRIMES AND PUNISHMENT

The defendants, former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni, each were convicted on seven counts ranging from depriving local residents of Fort Lee to localized travel, which carries a one-year maximum sentence, to wire fraud, which has a 20-year maximum. They are likely to be sentenced to much less time on Feb. 21.

David Wildstein, a Port Authority official who pleaded guilty to two counts and testified for the government, faces 15 years but is expected to get between 20 and 27 months under terms of his plea agreement.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Baroni and Kelly likely will get more time than Wildstein since they chose to go to trial rather than plead guilty, but he didn’t estimate a sentencing range.

 

APPEALS

Attorneys have 10 days to appeal the verdict, something they plan to do quickly, said Michael Critchley, Kelly’s attorney.

They also have a pending mistrial motion that hasn’t been ruled on, and they could appeal that if they lose. The motion was redacted, and attorneys haven’t said what it contains. Media organizations including The Associated Press have gone to court to ask the judge to release it.

Kelly and Baroni also could appeal the judge’s denial of their various motions to dismiss the indictment, filed months ago.

From their comments, Critchley and Michael Baldassare, an attorney representing Baroni, believe they have a strong argument to appeal the judge’s instructions to the jury on the top count, essentially a conspiracy to use the bridge, which connects Fort Lee and New York City, for an improper purpose.

They argued the jury should have been allowed to consider whether the government proved the defendants’ motive. But the judge ruled motive was not part of the crime charged.

A hearing before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on any of the appeals could take months to occur, and a subsequent ruling could take months more.

Fishman said Baroni and Kelly can remain out on bail before sentencing; they likely will seek to have their sentencing date postponed if appeals are pending.

 

KEEPING SCORE

Wildstein’s guilty plea and Baroni’s and Kelly’s convictions bring to four the number of Christie’s former associates or aides facing prison time.

Former Port Authority chairman David Samson, a longtime Christie mentor, pleaded guilty last summer to bribery for using his position to extract personal favors from United Airlines, the main carrier at the Port Authority-controlled Newark Liberty Airport. He is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

A fifth person, Christie’s former transportation commissioner Jamie Fox, was charged along with Samson but hasn’t been indicted. Fox was a United lobbyist at the time. His lawyer, who also represented Kelly, has said he will fight the charges.

 

MORE TROUBLE FOR CHRISTIE?

Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Sen. Loretta Weinberg said Friday that a special committee that looked into the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures should be reopened. The previous committee didn’t find a direct link to Christie.

Christie denies wrongdoing and wasn’t charged, but the lawmakers said that the testimony during the trial raised questions about what Christie knew and when he knew it.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said that the trial raised questions about the Christie administration’s behavior and that he will talk to colleagues about possible next steps.

Christie also is facing a citizen’s complaint that he violated the state’s misconduct law by failing to stop the lane closures when he found out about them. A judge ruled there was probable cause to hear the case, and a first appearance is scheduled for Nov. 23.

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