Friday, March 21, 2014
Lawyers for two former underlings of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in separate court filings Friday that a legislative committee should be able to offer their clients immunity from prosecution in exchange for providing information for the committee's investigation of possible political payback.
The briefs on behalf of former Christie aide Bridget Kelly and ex-campaign manager Bill Stepien were highly critical of the court filings from the lawmakers early this week, questioning their motives for releasing emails involving their clients and their legal positions.
Kelly's lawyer, Michael Critchley, compared the committee's arguments to "Alice in Wonderland."
The issue before a state court judge in Trenton is whether the lawmakers can force Kelly and Stepien to comply with subpoenas in the investigation of politically motivated traffic jams created near the George Washington Bridge last year. The judge, Mary Jacobson, had asked both sides to write briefs on the issue of immunity.
Christie fired Kelly in January after revelations that she was involved in creating the traffic jams in Fort Lee possibly as retribution against its Democratic mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. The governor, a possible presidential contender in 2016, also cut ties with Stepien, citing the "callous indifference" he showed in emails about the traffic lane closures.
Christie has denied advance knowledge of the lane closures. No one has been charged with any crimes in the case.
Most others asked for documents in the case, including Christie's re-election campaign and his office, are complying. But Kelly and Stepien have invoked their right not to self-incriminate and say federal prosecutors have sought information from them in the case.
This week, the legislative committee filed legal papers that included some previously undisclosed emails to and from Kelly and Stepien as it argued that they should have to comply with the subpoena.
Stepien lawyer Kevin Marino in his filing Friday took aim at the disclosures of those emails, one of which showed Stepien being looped in about complaints on the lane closures as they were happening last September.
"Both the context and the timing of that submission — to say nothing of the Committee Co-Chairs' outlandish press statements distorting the content of those documents — leave no doubt that it was designed to (a) manipulate the public's perception of the lane closure controversy; and (b) improperly influence this Court's adjudication of the pending constitutional issues, to which it is entirely irrelevant," Marino wrote in his brief.
Both lawyers also hammered at the panel's contention that it can't offer immunity from prosecution.
"To read the committee's supplemental brief is to enter Lewis Carroll's Wonderland," Critchley wrote. "Statutes don't mean what they say, the committee does not have the power to exercise powers it has already exercised and the Legislature as an institution is incapable of compelling a witness to comply with a subpoena."
A lawyer for the legislative committee didn't immediately return a message Friday evening.
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