(Newark)– Remember that time NJ Governor Chris Christie used the busiest bridge on the planet as a weapon to punish someone who crossed him? Of course you do! And unless you’re living under a rock, you probably know that the BridgeGate trial is finally underway in Federal Court in Newark. Specifically, defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly must answer for their alleged role in the BridgeGate scandal. Baroni was deputy director of the Port Authority of NY/NJ and Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief leading up to the scandal.
So let’s take a peek at Day 4! Who knows, if we’re really lucky, we’ll just might get a glimpse at something truly ghastly.
- Lack of Connectivity. No internet. No phone. No Twitter (gasp!) when court is in session. Absolutely no pics/video of any kind while in the building. I’m told a first infraction gets one tossed from the Honorable S.D. Wigenton’s courtroom. WNYC reporter Matt Katz learned that the hard way earlier this week and had his computer confiscated for over an hour while on deadline. He later joked that a second infraction would land him at Guantanamo. Security wasn’t messing around! I was thisclose to unknowingly running afoul of that rule, thank god the court’s sketch artist stopped me in nick of time. For merely gesturing that I was about to take a pic, security marched me out of chambers to verify the last photos on my phone. Luckily for me, it wasn’t anything illegal or, well, embarrassing.
- Casual Friday on Thursday. Bill Baroni looked fit and upbeat in his perfectly tailored suit with vintage 1960s glasses. That hint-of-gray up front is new and it flatters him. Bridget Kelly’s smart pant suit, chic nude flats + beige Michael Kors (?) shopper bag was a fitting ensemble for the day’s proceedings. Just enough shimmer with those beads. Neither will face additional fashion-related crimes. With the exception of both defendants, no one seemed dressed to impressed on Day 4. Not the jury. Not the media. Clad head-to-toe in stretchy Land’s End, I’m in absolutely no place to judge though. Long days in the courtroom mean comfort and practicality rules. Sensible shoes, khakis, basic pencil skirts. The fashions actually reminded me of Catholic church. Come to think about it, so did those wooden pew-like benches! No sacramental wine, though. That actually woulda been cool.
- Tag Team. Maybe it just came off that way, but Bridget and Bill seemed offered up like a package deal. They were chatty beforehand, engaging amicably for several minutes, at times casually leaning against the wall. He waved his hands occasionally for emphasis. She looked nervous. He probably did too, but I couldn’t tell as his back was to me. Once things got underway the defendants, flanked by their respective legal teams, all sat shoulder -to-shoulder at the corner of an L-shaped table. There were at least 7 defense lawyers on hand.
- Factoids. The Port Authority of NY/NJ has roughly 95 lawyers on staff. That many lawyers and no one thought to ask any of them for advice as this case began to spin out of control, per today’s testimony. Of the roughly 8,000 total employees, approximately 1,700 are cops. With $38,000,000,000 in assets and an $8,000,000,000 budget, the Port Authority economy is larger than all but a small handful of US States. And clearly fertile grounds for boundless nincompoopery.
- Civics. Or something. Today’s civics lesson showed off the best legal defense money can buy. Obviously, not everyone can afford that sort of thing, but that’s not for here. What we saw was a phalanx of brilliant defense lawyers doing what brilliant defense lawyers do: make everyone else look as awful as their clients. On this day it was Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. Foye, whose tenure at the top includes the Bridgegate era, didn’t do himself many favors. Today’s testimony revealed he wasn’t especially wedded to concepts like honesty or transparency. It was painful to hear the Port Authority chief call his own contradictions “immaterial.” It was a cycle of gasp-groan-cringe and it went on much too long for comfort. And just like that, Bill and Bridget aren’t the most unsympathetic characters in the room. See how that works? Bravo (well-paid) counselor! But still, disgusting to watch.
- Pastel Sketchy. My newest obsession: courtroom drawings. Two artists were on hand today. As the proceedings ground my brain to mush, I lost myself in dueling chalk pastel strokes that slowly revealed the very courtroom scene we were forbidden to photograph. Watching these two artists, a righty and a southpaw, methodically ply their trade was utterly beguiling and hypnotic.
- WildsteinGate. That’s what Port Authority director Pat Foye first called this mess, an hommage to Governor Christie’s former PA henchman David Wildstein. If Wildstein is half as vindictive as they’re making him out to be, he’ll kill me for saying this but he sounds like a real piece of garbage. “A cancer on the Port Authority” Pat Foye confirmed. After urging Baroni to raise these concerns with Wildstein, “it got worse,” said Foye. Apparently, Wildstein had a creepy steak too as evidenced by the multiple web domains Wildstein took out in Foye’s name, prompting Foye to finally reach out to outside legal counsel. Finally.
- Friends and Family. The defendants had about a half-dozen supporters among the crowd, including what appeared to be Baroni’s parents. I found myself gazing frequently in their direction, imagining what might be going through their minds. I felt sorry for them. It was actually easy to sympathize with the defendants at times as well. That’s why it’s useful to recall the massive alleged corruption that got us here in the first place, lest we lose ourselves in the defense’s narrative.
- Filet the Big Fish. I arrived home from Newark to news that, in light of this week’s scandalously contradictory testimony, Assemblyman John Wisniewski is ready to interview Governor Chris Christie under oath. If I’m forced to cover Federal Court ever again for the rest of my life, it’ll be too soon. But Chris Christie under oath? Consider me first in line for that show!
- Trump and Christie. So who’s the primary villain here? If I’m a betting man, i’m putting all my money on Chris Christie and his former campaign manager (+ Bridget Kelly’s ex-boy toy) Bill Stepien. Surely it was their selfish ambition that led us all to this trial. But instead of being in court (or in shackles) Christie and Stepien are out on the campaign trail working to send Donald Trump to the White House. For his part, Trump seems unconcerned by Christie’s woes, favoring him despite the scandal due to Christie’s “loyalty” to Trump’s presidential cause. Someone should remind The Donald how much loyalty Christie showed to his own staff when the going got tough.
Jay Lassiter is an iconoclast, tech savvy media artiste, street warrior for LGBT liberty and marijuana reform, and an un-intimidated presence if the halls of Trenton power as he aggressively pursues liberal causes. He’s often at brunch and always on twitter @Jay_Lass.