A U.S. appeals court on Monday heard nearly two hours of argument on whether to release publicly a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the “Bridgegate” criminal case involving allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
The three-judge panel at the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia did not immediately rule, and a rapid-fire volley of skeptical questions aimed at lawyers for both sides made it difficult to predict how the court was leaning.
A lawyer representing an individual on the list, identified only as “John Doe,” urged the court to throw out a lower judge’s decision to release the information sought by a group of media companies.
“It’s not about what they would like to know,” said Doe’s attorney, Jenny Parker. “It’s about what they are legally entitled to know.”
But Bruce Rosen, a lawyer for the media, argued the public’s right to know was paramount.
“This is an extremely important issue that goes to how deeply this conspiracy went into the government,” he said.
The list could shed light on the extent of the scheme to shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in 2013 in what prosecutors claim was an act of political revenge against a local mayor.
Christie, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination this year, has denied any knowledge of the plot, but the scandal has remained a source of embarrassment.
The list includes individuals that prosecutors believe were part of the conspiracy but are not facing criminal charges. Prosecutors have given defense lawyers the information as part of pretrial proceedings.
Monday’s argument largely focused on a technical issue: whether the list was a “bill of particulars,” a document that can be subject to public release, or an informal discovery letter that would normally stay sealed.
Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, argued in support of Doe’s position, saying prosecutors should be allowed to hand over such information to defendants without fear it will be revealed.
As an alternative, the court is considering whether to release all the names but that of John Doe, an option both Doe and the government oppose.
Three people have been charged in the case. William Baroni, a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, are scheduled to face trial in September.
David Wildstein, also a former official at the Port Authority, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and David Gregorio)
Photo: A giant American flag hangs from the West tower of the George Washington Bridge in between New York and New Jersey ahead of the U.S.-Germany 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match June 26, 2014. REUTER/Mike Segar