As Bridgegate Trial Nears Close, Attorney Offers Legal Perspective on What’s Next

The George Washington Bridge is at the venter of the lane closure scandal.

The George Washington Bridge is at the center of the lane closure scandal. (Photo: John Moore/Getty)

NEWARK, N.J. – As of Wednesday morning, both the defense and the prosecution rested in the Bridgegate case. On Thursday, attorneys on both sides will begin closing arguments. The case will likely go to the jury on Monday.

According to attorney Joe Hayden, the past six weeks of testimony have presented a “well tried case by both sides.” The prosecution claims that defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly committed conspiracy in a 2013 scheme to realign three local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the mayor of the bridge’s host community, Fort Lee. Kelly and Baroni maintain they are innocent and that they are wrongly being accused of involvement in the incident.

“Right now it will be a jump ball which will be decided by the jury,” Hayden said.

On Wednesday, trial Judge Susan D. Wigenton presented instructions to the jury regarding the law as it applies to the Bridgegate case. During that charge, Wigenton told the jury that they must rule on whether or not Kelly and Baroni “misused” Port Authority resources and funds. According to reports, on Tuesday night, Wigenton told lawyers that the motive of punishing Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich does not need to be proven “because it goes beyond what the object of the conspiracy is.”

According to Hayden, the trial instructions are the most important factor in determining the final outcome of the trial. He said it would have a more long-lasting impact than the closing statements.However, Hayden said that he is not familiar enough with the Bridgegate legal instructions to comment on how they will directly impact the outcome.

“The trial judge’s legal instructions are critical because long after the eloquence of the attorneys in summation, the legal instructions will be in the jury room,” Hayden said. “The legal instructions will be important because that is the strike zone against which the jury will apply the facts and the legal instructions will be in the jury room.”

A number of high-profile figures whose names were regularly mentioned in the Bridgegate proceedings were not called to testify and are not facing federal charges. Among those are New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Christie Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien. Hayden said that, while defense attorneys may remind the jury of “missing defendants,” the outcome of jury deliberations will ultimately impact Kelly and Baroni.

“The jury will have to decide the case against the tried defendants who are sitting in the courtroom but, I am sure the defense in their summations will make reference to any missing defendants who they will claim were ultimately responsible for what happened,” Hayden said. “They will talk about missing defendants, the missing chair.”

Hayden also said that there is the potential for “jury nullification,” where the jury returns a “not guilty” verdict despite belief that the defendants are guilty because they think some laws applied to the case are “fundamentally unfair in the process.”

While the judge gave legal instructions on Wednesday, Hayden said that, typically, attorney summation is done prior to charging the jury.

“A lot of lawyers like it better,” Hayden said of the process to charge the jury before attorney summaries. “They try to work their summations into the legal instructions. I would imagine that summations will be lengthly.”

The Bridgegate trial has been ongoing for six weeks. The jury is expected to reach a verdict after deliberations begin next week.