The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case involving two former state officials convicted in New Jersey's infamous George Washington Bridge scandal.
The justices announced they will hear a case in the fall involving Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni. The two were convicted in 2016 on multiple counts of fraud and civil rights violations for changing the traffic pattern to the George Washington Bridge without telling local officials. They claimed the 2013 lane realignment of the bridge that connects New Jersey to New York City was part of a traffic study. The result was days of gridlock in the New Jersey town of Fort Lee.
Prosecutors alleged that Kelly and Baroni's motive in realigning the lanes was to punish Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for not endorsing their boss, Republican Gov. Chris Christie. At the time of the realignment, Kelly was Christie's deputy chief of staff and Baroni was deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie wasn't charged, but the subsequent scandal dragged down his 2016 presidential hopes.
A jury ultimately convicted both Kelly and Baroni on all counts. An appeals court threw out their civil rights convictions last fall but upheld the fraud counts. Kelly was ultimately sentenced to 13 months in prison and Baroni to 18 months.
Attorneys said in asking the Supreme Court to take the case that the implications of the appeals court's decision was "astounding — and grave."
"Nothing is easier than accusing a public official of harboring secret political or personal motives for his decisions. Such an allegation suffices, under the decision below, not just to vote against the official, or sue him for an injunction, but to indict him for fraud," attorneys wrote.
Baroni chose not to appeal and is serving his sentence. He's scheduled to be released in July 2020 according to a Federal Bureau of Prisons website. Kelly is scheduled to begin serving July 10.
Kelly said in a statement that she was grateful to the court for taking up her case and hopeful that it would let "the truth come out." Her lawyer, Michael Critchley, told NJ.com that he had tears in his eyes Friday when he told her of the court's decision. He says she is "unbelievably happy," and added that to say they're excited is an understatement.
Baroni's attorney Michael Levy said in a statement that the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official is also grateful and confident that the court will find the pair committed no crime.