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Judge Grants Access to Bridgegate Records

NEWARK (CN) - A federal judge said attorneys for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie must produce records sought by the accused architects of "Bridgegate," a five-day lane shutdown on the George Washington Bridge that prosecutors say was politically motivated.

Bridget Kelly, who served as Christie's deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, have been battling fraud charges since April, related to the 2013 lane shutdown supposedly engineered as payback for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich not endorsing Christie's re-election for governor.

Attorneys for Kelly and Baroni appeared in court Friday to challenge the response by counsel for Christie to a grand jury subpoena.

Keeping thousands of pages of documents under wraps, attorneys with the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher say the communications between Christie staffers from the week of the lane closures are privileged.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton disagreed Friday, giving Kelly and Baroni the green light to subpoena Christie's cellphone records, as well as emails exchanged between his top aides the week of the lane closures.

"Satisfied this is not a fishing expedition," Wigenton said the documents in question contain "potentially relevant information."

Wigenton had previously been critical of some of Gibson Dunn's tactics in a December ruling last year, calling the firm's method of overwriting interview notes "unorthodox," stinking of "opacity and gamesmanship."

The ruling comes at a critical time for Christie's presidential campaign.

Having won just 2 percent of voters in the GOP Iowa caucuses, Christie has staked much of his campaign on a winning performance in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday.

While the governor has not been directly linked or charged in the lane closures, his poll numbers, both nationally and in New Jersey, have plummeted since the scandal.

Randy Mastro, Christie's lead counsel at Gibson Dunn, said in a statement after the ruling that "there is nothing more to be provided by our firm or the governor's office relating to the GWB lane realignment, beyond the many documents previously produced to the U.S. Attorney's Office pursuant to a federal grand jury subpoena, which criminal defense counsel presumably already obtained from that office."

Baroni told the Associated Press after Friday's hearing he that was "very encouraged" by the judge's ruling, while Kelly declined comment.

It wasn't all good news, however, for Baroni and Kelly. Just hours after the ruling, Wigenton also denied a request from Baroni's lawyers to move the trial out of state.

Defense attorneys had argued that "the media coverage of Mr. Baroni and the bridge scandal is not only widespread, but also sensationalistic and so 'grossly unfair' that viewers cannot be reasonably expected to put it out of their minds."

Wigenton disagreed, noting that New Jersey's federal court is part of "a region covering 1,700 square miles with millions of residents."

"This court is not convinced that twelve impartial individuals cannot be found from such a sizable pool of potential jurors," the ruling states.

"The events at issue also occurred approximately two years ago, allowing passions to cool and outrage to lessen," Wigenton added. "Although the media continues to report on the closures and the legal proceedings surrounding them, this court is not convinced that ongoing coverage makes it impossible to empanel a fair and impartial jury."

Kelly and Baroni's trials are still scheduled for May 16, but both filed lengthy motions to dismiss the indictment this week, making it likely the trials will be delayed.

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