Attorneys for Bill Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager,
and Bridget Anne Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, had argued
that producing emails and other documents related to the September
2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge would violate
their clients' constitutional protection against self-incrimination
and unreasonable search and seizure.
Members of the Democrat-controlled state legislature investigating
the lane closings issued subpoenas to Kelly and Stepien in January.
Rejecting the committee's attempt to compel them to cooperate, Judge
Mary Jacobson said that Stepien and Kelly feared evidence they
produced could be used by the U.S. Attorney's office in its separate
investigation of the scheme and allegations of abuse of power in the
"Since a federal investigation touching on the same subject matter
is currently active ... Mr. Stepien's and Ms. Kelly's fear of
releasing incriminating evidence is not a 'mere imaginary
possibility' nor is it 'trifling,'" she wrote.
The two "are justified in invoking their state privilege against
self-incrimination," she wrote in her ruling.
Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, said in a statement that the
judge's decision was "thorough and well-reasoned."
"For all the naysayers who criticized Ms. Kelly for asserting her
constitutional rights, Judge Jacobson's decision provides a free
tutorial on the protections the Fifth Amendment affords all
citizens," the lawyer said.
Democratic state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is co-chairman of
the lawmakers' investigating committee, said in a statement that the
panel will now consult with attorneys to examine its options.
[to top of second column]
"The committee felt it was very much in the public interest to seek
to compel the production of these documents, but as we've said
before, there's more than one method to gather information in an
investigation, and we will consider alternatives," he said. "We will
continue exploring every avenue to find out what happened with this
threat to public safety and abuse of government power."
The closing of access lanes to the bridge, ostensibly for a traffic
study that never materialized, caused extensive delays for four days
in the town of Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor had not endorsed
Christie's re-election bid in 2013.
Christie, widely seen as a potential Republican candidate for the
White House in 2016, has said he was unaware of his aides' actions
and has severed ties with several of them.
An internal review commissioned by Christie on the lane closures
last month cleared the governor and his current staff, placing blame
on Kelly and another former colleague.
However, a poll released on Wednesday showed that most New Jersey
voters believe the internal investigation was a "whitewash.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Cavaliere;
editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Dan Grebler and Gunna Dickson)
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