Lawyer and Judge Spar Over Bridgegate Jury | Courthouse News Service
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Lawyer and Judge Spar Over Bridgegate Jury

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Jurors are still deliberating on New Jersey's politically engineered traffic jam of 2013, but a defense attorney thundered Tuesday that the judge's instructions will assure a conviction.

"By answering the way you're answering, you're directing a verdict of guilty," said defense attorney Michael Critchley.

"Thank you," Wigenton replied sarcastically.

"You're welcome, Judge," Critchley shot back.

Critchley represents Bridget Kelly, one of two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie now waiting on a jury verdict after more than six weeks of trial at the federal courthouse in Newark.

The erupted after three access lanes at the George Washington Bridge reserved for Fort Lee, N.J., mysteriously became one on Sept. 9, 2013.

Just ahead of the lane shutdown, which lasted four days, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had declined to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election.

Prosecutors say Kelly conspired on the shutdown as political vengeance against the Democrat. She was indicted alongside two officials at the public agency in charge of the bridge.

One of those individuals, David Wildstein, already admitted to the plot as part of a plea deal. Kelly has been on trial with Bill Baroni, who had been Christie's top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In addition to the plot itself, Kelly and Baroni are accused of concocting a "traffic study" cover-up in explanation of the lane closures.

The pair face nine counts of wire fraud, conspiracy and misuse of government resources. Convictions could send them to prison for 20 years, along with fines up to $250,000.

Though counsel have been relatively civil with each other throughout proceedings and have kept histrionics at a minimum, tempers flared Tuesday for the first full day of jury deliberations.

The court convened this afternoon to answer the jury's second question of the day: whether the jury could convict Kelly and Baroni of the three conspiracy charges if the acts were not intentionally punitive.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton had already sided with prosecutors on this issue at a closed-door meeting before summations.

She reached the same conclusion Tuesday after having attorneys debate the issue again.

Critchley grew increasingly agitated during today's hearing, raising his voice several times, speaking out of turn, and scolding one of the prosecutors for attempting to silence him.

"Punishment is the key," Critchley said during the hearing. "And if they don't find that, then we should be found to be not guilty, Judge."

While Wigenton was in the middle of ruling against Critchley and Michael Baldassare, who represents Baroni, Critchley jumped in his chair.

He quickly apologized, saying he had developed certain involuntary impulses after the lengthy trial.

"Well, control your involuntary reactions," Wigenton scolded him.

Critchley has been fiery at times throughout the trial. During his closing arguments he boomed that Christie and others in his administration were "cowards" for not appearing on the stand to either verify Kelly's version of events, or to vilify her.

Kelly has maintained her innocence, with Critchley arguing she had been duped by Wildstein, a serial liar, into believing the lane closures were due to a traffic study. Baroni has argued much the same.

Attorneys were called into the court two other times Tuesday to answer questions about the charges against Kelly and Baroni. One question asked whether it was legal for prosecutors to have met with Wildstein, their key witness, without defense attorneys being present. Wigenton ruled that it was, but attorneys sparred over the wording of the instructions the jury would be given on that issue.

Critchley objected to the jury being told that defense attorneys had a duty and obligation to question the prosecution's witnesses, arguing that Critchley had purposefully not questioned certain witnesses as a legal strategy.

Baldassare also argued that many times defense attorneys have no access to a prosecution's witnesses because a particular witness's attorney may object.

Jury deliberations began late Monday and convened today from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. They will continue deliberating Wednesday.

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