Suit revived vs. Christie allies over bridge lane closings

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A lawsuit against several allies of Gov. Chris Christie in connection with the George Washington Bridge lane closings was refiled Thursday, several weeks after a judge dismissed an earlier version.

The amended complaint, a putative class action that combines two lawsuits filed in early 2014 by individuals and businesses affected by the September 2013 lane closures, doesn't name Christie as a defendant. It names his re-election campaign organization, the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and individuals including former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority official Bill Baroni, both of whom are under federal indictment.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares had dismissed the lawsuit on June 30 — coincidentally the day Christie officially announced his intention to run for president — agreeing with the defendants that it didn't offer enough specifics on what any of the defendants did to orchestrate or cover up the alleged scheme.

Since the filing of the two lawsuits more than 18 months ago, however, a glut of documentation has emerged, and Thursday's 87-page amended complaint made liberal use of it to buttress specific claims.

That included a 136-page, December 2014 report by a New Jersey legislative committee; a lengthier, taxpayer-funded report by a law firm commissioned by Christie in early 2014; the 2015 federal indictment of Kelly and Baroni and the guilty plea of David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official who admitted he helped orchestrate the closures as payback for a mayor who wouldn't endorse Christie.

The 10 counts alleged in the lawsuit include racketeering, deprivation of constitutional rights, conspiracy, consumer fraud, breach of contract and other violations.

Using information culled from the reports and court documents, the suit lays out a timeline leading up to and after the closures that alleges Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein and former Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak, took part in various parts of the scheme to target Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie, then concocted a bogus story about a traffic study to cover their tracks.

The four's actions constituted an "enterprise" under state racketeering statutes, the lawsuit alleges, and they were "associated in fact for the common purpose of retaliating against Mayor Sokolich for failing to endorse Governor Christie's re-election bid and effectuating their political vengeance against Mayor Sokolich and his constituents by causing massive traffic congestion in and around Fort Lee."

The lawsuit also describes, from the legislative committee's report, an apparent effort by the Christie campaign to curry favor with Sokolich, whose name was on a list of influential mayors to be courted.

Christie allegedly requested $162,000 from the Port Authority in 2012 to pay for shuttle buses from Fort Lee to trans-Hudson River ferries in nearby Edgewater. Later, the suit contends, campaign staffers fretted that Sokolich wasn't publicly giving the governor's office sufficient credit for it.

Attorneys for Baroni, Wildstein and Drewniak didn't immediately return emails seeking comment after hours Thursday. A lawyer wasn't listed for Kelly.