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Media Balk at Seal on NJ Bridgegate Materials

TRENTON, N.J. (CN) - A list of unindicted co-conspirators in the upcoming trial of New Jersey political aides accused of orchestrating bridge-lane closures should come to light, a group of media outlets told a federal judge.

The maneuver comes five months after U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton placed a protective order in the so-called Bridgegate prosecution of Bridget Anne Kelly and William Baroni Jr.

Back in 2013, when a five-day shutdown of several lanes leading into the George Washington Bridge snarled traffic for hours, Kelly served as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Chris Christie and Baroni was deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Federal prosecutors charged the pair back in April with conspiracy and fraud, claiming that the pair had engineered the lane shutdown as payback for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich not endorsing Christie's re-election for governor.

In addition to putting a wrench in otherwise bad bridge traffic, the lane shutdown occurred on the first day of school for children, caused innumerable delays to both school buses and emergency vehicles.

As the case gears up for trial, court records show that the prosecutors responded to a bill of particulars on Jan. 11.

That response included a list of unindicted co-conspirators, and several media outlets say that list should not remain under seal.

The argument comes in a motion to intervene McCusker Anselmi Rosen & Carvelli attorney Bruce Rosen filed Wednesday on behalf of the North Jersey Media Group and other news outlets.

Joining North Jersey Media Group, which publishes the Record and the Herald News, in the motion are the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones, NBCUniversal, nj.com publishers New Jersey Advance Media, NJTV, The New York Times and New York Public Radio.

In addition to the motion, attorney Rosen filed a declaration and a 22-page memorandum.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman has yet to file an opposition brief, after which a hearing would be held on the motion to unseal the documents.

"The government inexplicably and contrary to its prior representations submitted that list to this court and defendants via email without any mention on the public docket in an apparent effort to avoid public scrutiny," the motion states.

When the court entered a protective order back in July, it served to protect personal financial information, medical information, and governmental and business matters not related to the conspiracy charges.

The media outlets contend that the list of unindicted co-conspirators does not fall under those exceptions and should not have been automatically sealed.

"There can be no question that the list of unindicted co-conspirators is a judicial document eligible for First Amendment and common law access," the motion reads, noting that prosecutors had the co-conspirator list for at least eight months.

A letter by Baroni's attorney Michael Baldassare submitted to the court Jan. 12 indicates that Fishman sent the co-conspirator list directly to Judge Wigenton instead of filing it through the court system.

"Mr. Baroni has a right to a full and fair trial," Baldassare wrote in the letter. "The prosecution's repeated attempts to deprive him of those rights through secrecy cannot stand."

Kelly has similarly called out the co-conspirator list, saying publicly last May that it was "ludicrous" to believe she was the only one in Christie's office who knew about the lane closings.

The media outlets also seek an email from Christie to Politics NJ that provided examples of "erroneous reporting," as well as several sealed memos from defense counsel. The contents of those memos are unknown, but they should have been unsealed, Rosen's motion states.

Among other materials sought is a completely redacted memo by law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which investigated Bridgegate for the Office of the Governor of New Jersey and ultimately concluded that Christie had no responsibility for the lane closings.

In an interview, Rosen said he doesn't expect the judge to rule on the issue for three or four weeks at the earliest.

At that point, however, "ot shouldn't be hard for the judge to unseal the documents and release at least some of the documents that we've asked for," Rosen said.

Christie aides and Port Authority officials initially tried to chalk the lane shutdown up to a traffic study.

Port Authority officials have since admitted to faking that traffic study as an excuse for the shutdown and allegedly prepared misleading statements for the agency's media relations department to deflect media questions.

Judges have ruled both in favor and against unsealing co-conspirator lists in past cases.

In 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that documents alleging ties between American Islamic groups and Hamas should have been kept under seal because it violated the Fifth Amendment rights of the group's members.

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