The Bridgegate Trial Begins: But Can It Be Won?

The upcoming Bridgegate criminal trial in Newark, which will determine if Governor Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and his top executive appointee at the Port Authority ordered multiple access lanes closed at the George Washington Bridge on five mornings in September of 2013, promises to be a circus: were the closures done due to the traffic study as alleged by the defendants – or was it punishment for the Fort Lee Mayor who had not endorsed the governor’s 2013 re-election campaign?  Either way, the trial does not figure to help Governor Christie who is thought to be behind the closing of the lanes – and who already has historically low approval ratings among New Jersey voters.  

Some Hope For an Acquittal: A Top Defense Attorney is on the Case

The defendants are charged with misusing misusing federally funded property, fraud and depriving the public of its right to interstate travel.  While the prosecution plans to prove its case with emails, text messages and the cooperation of Christie’s top political appointee at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, they will still have to convince the jury that the defendants – Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni – deserve to be convicted when they were neither front-line politicians or received any benefit for their actions.  While the jury surely cannot rely on a legal defense that Kelly and Baroni are being scapegoated by this prosecution, they still may refuse to convict if they feel that the wrong people are being held responsible for the closure of the lanes.

And this is where a top criminal defense lawyer comes into play.  Convincing the jury that either the evidence is too light to convict or that the prosecution’s case is tainted due to the reliance on the testimony of corrupt political appointees who led the conspiracy and will receive little to no punishment, is no easy task.  But as I noted in an interview with the media on this case, Kelly’s lawyer is one of the best criminal attorneys in New Jersey and one who I watched from a front row seat during my stint as a summer intern for the Newark Strike Force for Organized Crime during the summer of 1988 – where an entire organized crime family was tried and ultimately acquitted.

A defense lawyer who can effectively communicate with the jury, humanize the defendants and make the government witnesses appear as evildoers who are getting away with murder is what will be required – again, no easy task.  However, the government’s own arrogance sometimes can trip them up as overconfidence sets in: for example, in the article linked above, a former federal prosecutor noted that the talents of a defense lawyer was never an issue for her, noting that she “was never impressed by a defense lawyer’s skills. ‘All the showmanship in the world can’t really erase the facts,” Rodgers said.”  Of course, what this prosecutor failed to mention was that she was one of the prosecutors who repeatedly failed to convict my client, John A. Gotti, in multiple federal trials in Manhattan.  I suppose the talents of a defense lawyer were an issue for Rodgers in that case.

The Case Might Be Won or Lost at Jury Selection

The jury selection will be crucial in this case: the closure of the lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge were, as anyone can imagine, very unpopular as it occurred during the first week students returned to school, creating gridlock hell for school buses, law enforcement and commuters.  And while nearly everyone in the jury pool will have an opinion about “Bridgegate,” the task will be to find jurors who can put emotion aside and view the facts dispassionately.

A personal connection with the jurors is absolutely crucial to winning a high profile case with an unpopular defendant.  My experience has been that if jurors connect with a defense lawyer, if they trust the defense lawyer, if they are entertained by the defense lawyer – they may be more willing to look past some harmful evidence.  However, this can but both ways: if the jury is turned off by a defense lawyer he or she may hold the defendant responsible. As one of the jurors in the trial of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver recently stated after his conviction, the defense theory “seemed phony.”  She also stated that Silver’s defense attorney “made her feel uncomfortable by making eye contact for too long.”  Not surprisingly, Silver was convicted. A charismatic defense attorney with a good sense of humor goes a long way in the road to an acquittal.

If you would like to meet and discuss your case with a charismatic defense attorney with a good sense of humor, call the La Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman today at (212) 581-1001. We are available to handle complex federal and state criminal cases as well as civil rights actions and sexual harassment claims.