Jan 4, 3:55 PM EST

Bridgegate defendants cite new ruling in seeking reversals



NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- Two former allies of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are pinning hopes of having their George Washington Bridge lane-closing convictions reversed on a Massachusetts corruption case that was thrown out last month.

Attorneys for Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni filed letters with a federal judge in Newark on Tuesday spelling out the similarities between the cases and why they feel those justify their motions for a new trial.

Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Baroni, one of his top appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were convicted in November of conspiracy and wire fraud in a plot to use traffic jams to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who wouldn't endorse Christie for re-election.

Prosecutors say Christie's allies closed lanes near the bridge to create traffic headaches in Fort Lee. The bridge, one of the world's busiest, connects Fort Lee and New York City.

Christie has said he didn't know about the lane closures beforehand and didn't authorize them, and he was not charged. Former Port Authority official David Wildstein was charged, pleaded guilty and testified against Kelly and Baroni. The sentencing for Kelly and Baroni is scheduled for next month, but that could be delayed by the appeals process.

Among numerous issues Kelly and Baroni raised before and after the trial, they argued the government twisted federal law to criminalize actions - realigning lanes near the bridge - that were, at worst, ill-advised or perhaps even unethical.

That notion aligns with the First Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to overturn the convictions last month in the Massachusetts case, Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, wrote to the judge on Tuesday.

In that case, US v Tavares, three people were convicted in a scheme to hire certain employees for the state's probation office in exchange for favorable legislation. In overturning the convictions, the appeals court wrote that, while the defendants' actions could be deemed distasteful, the government overreached in charging them with federal crimes.

"We find that the Government overstepped its bounds in using federal criminal statutes to police the hiring practices of these Massachusetts state officials," the court wrote.

That standard should be used in the so-called Bridgegate case, Critchley wrote.

"Like the statutes utilized in the alleged politically based hiring scheme in Tavares, the statutes utilized in this case have never been applied to facts even remotely similar to the facts alleged here," he wrote.

The U.S. attorney's office had no comment on Wednesday. The office has until Jan. 16 to respond to Tuesday's filing. U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton is expected to rule on Baroni's and Kelly's motions after that.

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