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May 23, 5:48 PM EDT

Government favors open hearing in bridge co-conspirator case



NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Unsealed filings in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case released Monday show federal prosecutors sided with media organizations in seeking a public hearing for an unidentified person trying to block the publication of a list of unindicted co-conspirators.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled last Friday the June 6 oral arguments in Philadelphia are to be open. A person identified as John Doe has challenged a judge's order to release the list of co-conspirators and had sought to have the hearing closed.

The appeals court also ordered filings made under seal last week to be unsealed by noon Monday after a request by the media organizations fighting for the list to be released, including The Associated Press.

In its filing, the U.S. attorney's office in Newark wrote that if it is unable to answer any question during the June 6 arguments because of grand jury secrecy or privacy concerns, it would answer the question privately, in a sealed submission. It said John Doe could do the same "if his personal circumstances bear on any issue this Court will be addressing."

The U.S. attorney's office has opposed the release of the list.

In previous court filings, Doe has said his reputation will be damaged and he will be branded a criminal if the list is released.

In a filing Monday, Doe's attorney, Jenny Kramer, added that when the government opposed the media organizations' request for the list in January, it said it didn't have "sufficient information to label the individuals on the Letter as conspirators - let alone charge them - and that the letter therefore had no 'legal significance'" except potentially at trial.

The media organizations have argued that the public's right to know outweighs privacy concerns. They also have argued that names of unindicted co-conspirators frequently are divulged at trial anyway.

Intense speculation has surrounded the identities of those on the list, who prosecutors believe were involved in some way with the conspiracy to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 but weren't criminally charged.

Two former allies of Gov. Chris Christie, including his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, face trial for allegedly closing access lanes to the bridge as a way to punish a mayor who didn't endorse Christie. Christie has denied knowledge and hasn't been charged.

A taxpayer-funded report commissioned by Christie concluded in 2014 that nobody in Christie's office aside from Kelly had any advance knowledge of the lane realignment or was involved in orchestrating or approving it.

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