Morning Digest: March 12, 2014

 Fired Chris Christie staffer isn’t ‘someone running away,’ attorney says

TRENTON – Fired Gov. Chris Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly appeared to be fighting back tears outside of the Trenton courthouse Tuesday.

The former deputy chief of staff who’s widely considered to the author of the infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email stood behind her attorney, Michael Critchley, as he and the counsel for another former Christie aide spent hours arguing before a judge why their clients shouldn’t have to comply with a legislative subpoena.

The other aide, two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien, was absent from the proceedings. But Kelly opted to appear to demonstrate “she’s not someone running away” from a scandal that’s caught the national spotlight, said Critchley.

“Her life has been affected dramatically and today the court was going to discuss an issue of significance that affected her life and she wanted to be here to show that she felt it was important for hearing and seeing,” he said.  (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Fired Chris Christie staffer isn’t ‘someone running away,’ attorney says | Politicker NJ




Attorney argues Bridgegate investigation is focused inquiry, not a ‘fishing expedition’

TRENTON – An attorney representing a legislative committee investigating the Gov. Chris Christie administration over the so-called Bridgegate scandal argued in court Tuesday that lawmakers are conducting a focused inquiry, not a “fishing expedition.”

Fired Christie staffer Bridget Kelly was seated a few feet away from the attorney representing the committee demanding the former deputy chief of staff comply with a subpoena ordering her to handover documents related to the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy.

“The committee issued very focused subpoenas,” argued the attorney, Reid Schar, explaining Kelly was a public employee at the time of the lane closures and shouldn’t be exempt from withholding requested documents.

Kelly sat with her counsel and attorneys representing Christie’s two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who was absent from the hearing that will ultimately decided whether the pair run the risk of self-incrimination if they handover documents subpoenaed by state lawmakers.

Schar conceded there is a Fifth Amendment right not to produce documents for overly broad subpoenas. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Attorney argues Bridgegate investigation is focused inquiry, not a ‘fishing expedition’ | Politicker NJ




Union Democrats back Watson Coleman in CD12

PLAINFIELD – Giovanna’s has been around for exactly 31 years this week.

The candidates for Congress in the 12th District made their way into this legendary eatery past Angelo, and past the bar where two men lifted their heads and blinked.

“What’s going on out there?”

“A Union County Democratic Committee meeting,” was the reply.

“I’m an independent,” said one of the men.

“I’m a Republican,” announced the other.

Both heads dropped back on the bar. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Union Democrats back Watson Coleman in CD12 | Politicker NJ




Judge in GWB hearing an experienced hand

She ordered a Trenton mayor to resign, presided over complex public records cases and legalized gay marriage

Now, Mercer County Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson has been asked to decide whether two people at the center of a legislative inquiry into the George Washington Bridge lane closures can claim the Fifth Amendment in refusing to provide documents.

Jacobson carefully listened to three hours of testimony Tuesday morning, asking pointed questions of the three attorneys entrenched in the constitutional law case. She asked attorneys for Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Governor Christie, and Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, to explain why their clients shouldn’t have to produce documents.

Meanwhile, she asked Reid Schar, who is representing the Democratic-led legislative panel, why Kelly and Stepien can’t claim the Fifth Amendment.

The judge said it will take her some time to consider the arguments because the outcomes have serious implications. (Hayes/The Record)




Key figure in NJ scandal surfaces for hearing

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A key figure in a political payback investigation involving Gov. Chris Christie‘s administration voluntarily came to court to watch lawyers argue over whether her subpoena from a legislative investigatory panel should be quashed.

A lawyer said Bridget Kelly, the former Christie aide at the center of a plot to block traffic near the George Washington Bridge, wanted to show she’s not hiding from the scandal.

“She’s not someone who’s running away and living the life of a hermit,” lawyer Michael Critchley said outside the Mercer County courthouse Tuesday after the nearly three-hour proceeding.

Kelly, who had not appeared in public since Christie fired her in early January, was rushed by reporters and camera crews as she arrived and left the courthouse. She did not comment. The jobless and divorced mother of four appeared near tears as Critchley described how her life had been upended by the case. (Delli Santi/San Antonio Express) 




Can Panel Compel Kelly, Stepien to Release Bridgegate Emails?

Judge with extensive background in OPRA cases signals that legislative committee has stronger case in demanding emails from Kelly than from Stepien. 

The future of the Legislature’s Bridgegate investigation is in the hands of a Superior Court judge who will decide whether Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien, the deputy chief of staff and campaign operative who are the only two staffers Gov. Chris Christie has fired, must turn over emails and other communications related to the infamous George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the cochairs of the Joint Select Committee on Investigations, had reason to be pleased that the ruling will be issued by Mercer County Superior Court Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson, who frequently rules on state government open public records cases.

In a case that pits Kelly’s and Stepien’s Fifth Amendment right against the legislative committee’s right to subpoena documents as part of a duly constituted investigation, Jacobson zeroed in on the fact that public employees like Kelly know they have an obligation to preserve and produce public records, including private emails, related to public business.

She also signaled that she was inclined to agree with the legislative committee’s contention that it had sufficient reason to believe that Kelly, more so than Stepien, possessed additional emails concerning the Bridgegate lane closures. “‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee’ didn’t come out of thin air,” Jacobson said, quoting the August 13 email from Kelly to David Wildstein, Christie’s top political operative at the Port Authority, that linked the scandal directly to the governor’s office and resulted in Kelly being fired. “There is reasonable suspicion there were emails prior to that.” (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 




FEMA extends Sandy housing aid in NJ

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Federal Emergency Management Agency officials have extended temporary housing assistance for Superstorm Sandy victims in New Jersey by three months.

The aid was due to expire on April 30th.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. had requested FEMA extend the deadline by six months. Pallone says although the extension is not ideal, the Democrat says it will help many residents pay rent for temporary housing while they rebuild from storm damage.

The assistance will continue until July 30th. (Associated Press) 




Tesla Stores May Be Closed After N.J. Blocks Direct Sales

Governor Chris Christie’s administration blocked Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), the electric-car maker that doesn’t have franchised retail dealers, from direct auto sales in a move the company said could shutter its only two stores in New Jersey.

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, which includes members of Christie’s cabinet, unanimously approved the proposal yesterday in Trenton, delaying public comment on the matter until after the hearing. Tesla said it learned only a day earlier, after months of negotiations, that the rule change was coming to the most densely populated U.S. state, which is important for reaching customers in the New York metro area.

Christie “has gone back on his word,” Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Twitter prior to the vote. “His administration, under pressure from auto dealers, may shut down Tesla in NJ as soon as today.”

Tesla is battling dealers state by state to secure or protect the right to sell its cars directly to consumers. Auto dealers in Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Georgia and elsewhere in the past year have sought to block Tesla from directly retailing its models, arguing that independent retailers are better for shoppers and owners of vehicles. Texas dealers successfully backed a law setting the nation’s toughest restrictions on Tesla. Arizona, Colorado and Virginia also imposed limits. (Ohnsman and Dopp/Bloomberg) 




COAH Meeting Canceled After State Supreme Court Issues Temporary Stay

Appellate panel had ordered fair-share housing agency to hold its first meeting in 10 months.  

Just 18 hours before the NJ Council on Affordable Housing was to hold a court-ordered meeting, which would have been its first in 10 months, the agency cancelled that meeting after the state Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of the order late yesterday afternoon.

The stay issued by the state’s highest court’s one-page order put a hold on last Friday’s extraordinary Appellate Division ruling that COAH meet by 9:30 a.m. today to begin working on rules for municipalities to provide their “fair share” of housing for low- and moderate-income residents as required under the state Supreme Court’s so-called Mount Laurel rulings.

Soon after the Supreme Court issued its temporary stay, the state Department of Community Affairs posted a that it had cancelled the meeting. Spokesmen for DCA and the state Attorney General’s office both declined comment. The meeting cancellation notice stated that the meeting “has been cancelled because the Supreme Court’s Order stayed the Appellate Division’s Order of March 7, 2014, which constituted the legal basis for holding the emergency meeting.”

Prior to early 2011, COAH used to hold monthly meetings. The council is supposed to have 12 members, but currently only half the seats are filled. (O’Dea/NJSpotlight) 




Poll: Chris Christie ‘bridge’ issue in Iowa

More than half of Iowans disapprove the way New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has handled “Bridgegate,” according to a new poll.

Fifty-seven percent of voters in the first-caucus state disapprove of the way Christie handled the controversy, according to a poll by the Des Moines Register published Tuesday.

Twenty-five percent approve and 18 percent are unsure.

Christie fares slightly better with Republicans over the issue with 47 percent of Republicans disapproving and 34 percent approving the way the governor responded to the scandal.

Christie dismissed two top aides after emails released in January linked them to the lane closures in September that led to massive traffic jams. The Republican governor has denied any knowledge or involvement with the closures, which Christie’s opponents alleged were done for political retribution. (McCalmont/Politico)




From the Back Room


Kramer backs Torres for Mayor of Paterson

Former Paterson Mayor, Lawrence “Pat” Kramer, today endorsed Jose “Joey” Torres for mayor of Paterson in the May 13th nonpartisan election.

In his letter of endorsement, Kramer said the city experienced “sound growth” during Torres’ two terms as leader of the city, from 2002-2010. (PolitickerNJ)

Kramer backs Torres for Mayor of Paterson | Politicker NJ



Exclusive PolitickerNJ poll on GOP vote in CD 3 race out this afternoon

This afternoon, PolitickerNJ will be posting the results of our exclusive poll of Republican primary voters in CD3. (PolitickerNJ)

Exclusive PolitickerNJ poll on GOP vote in CD 3 race out this afternoon | Politicker NJ




NYT: The Port Authority as Christie’s tool

The New York Times this morning offers a front page, in-depth look at operations at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey prior to the Bridgegate scandal.

The piece revists then-Deputy Director Bill Baroni’s faceoff with the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). (PolitickerNJ)

NYT: The Port Authority as Christie’s tool | Politicker NJ






Bridget Anne Kelly looking for new image, new job


Bridget Anne Kelly didn’t just come to court Tuesday to quash subpoenas. She was also job hunting.

“She’s unemployed. She’s doing her best trying to seek employment,” her lawyer, Michael Critchley, said while standing in front of the Mercer County Courthouse, after he’d spent several hours arguing why Kelly should not be compelled to comply with a subpoena from the special legislative investigative committee probing the George Washington Bridge lane closings.

Critchley then paused, smiled and said, “So, I don’t know if I should say this for Ms. Kelly, but if anybody needs someone to work, give me a call, because I’ve got an excellent employee.”

His off-handed quip, however, suggested that Kelly, the high-energy Christie loyalist-operative suspected of setting in motion the lane closings, had other reasons for sitting through a three-hour, eye-glazing debate over the “doctrinal underpinnings” of the Fifth Amendment or arcane citations to case law from 1886.

She was there to remake her image in the court of public opinion as a sympathetic figure amid a scandal that has upended her life and quite possibly the political career of her old boss, Governor Christie.

Kelly, who has shunned the press since Christie fired her on Jan. 9, when her now infamous email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” was published by The Record, was now openly courting the attention. She moved slowly through a gantlet of television cameras and reporters, a dazed and frightened suburban mother in fuchsia jacket, black pumps and a necklace with pearls the size of gumballs, arriving in court to defend her honor.

It was a far cry from the image and mystique of a hard-nosed political operative whose email to David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority, set in motion the vendetta-inspired bridge lane closings. Or the woman who struggled to repress her glee when the ensuing traffic jams started to make life miserable for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had failed to endorse Christie and was the apparent target of the plot. (Stile/The Record)   Morning Digest: March 12, 2014