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Supreme Court throws out convictions of New Jersey officials in Bridgegate scandal

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Supreme Court throws out convictions of New Jersey officials in Bridgegate scandal

By CNN.com, May 7, 2020

The Supreme Court threw out fraud convictions on Thursday against two New Jersey officials involved in the “Bridgegate” political scandal, the George Washington Bridge traffic jam that rocked the administration of then-Gov. Chris Christie.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Elena Kagan said that “for no reason” other than “political payback” the aides “used deception” to cut access lanes from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to the bridge.
The move “jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents,” Kagan wrote, but concluded that “not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime.”

Bridget Anne Kelly, who served as an aide to Christie, and Bill Baroni, the deputy director of the Port Authority, were convicted for their roles in the scandal and ultimately sentenced to 13 and 18 months in 2017. Currently out on bond, they asked the Supreme Court to reverse their convictions.

The ruling is the latest example of the court narrowing the type of conduct by public officials that can be considered fraud under federal law.
In recent years, the court has decisively narrowed the government’s ability to charge public officials with federal crimes for corruption offenses, most notably in 2016 after former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell took hundreds of thousands of dollars from a businessman who wanted the governor to intervene on his behalf with state officials to benefit his business.
“Once again, the Supreme Court has thrown out federal criminal convictions of public officials who, by their own admission, abused their power for corrupt and illegitimate purposes,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“The harder question is whether Congress will respond to rulings like this one by expanding the scope of these laws, or whether we’re going to end up with a world in which criminal liability for such nefarious conduct depends upon the color of one’s collar,” Vladeck added.
Christie’s aides argued that they were wrongly convicted and that prosecutors overreached when they charged them under various federal fraud statutes.
Kagan added that the aides’ scheme did not aim to obtain money or property, and therefore they could not have violated wire fraud laws.

 

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