George Washington Bridge (Image: Allan Tannenbaum / Newscom)
Two subjects of the investigation into last September’s abrupt closing of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge are persisting in their refusal to comply with document subpoenas from a special committee of the New Jersey Legislature.
Lawyers representing Bridget Kelly, Gov. Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, who ran Christie’s two campaigns for governor, say their clients still insist that they do not plan to cooperate with the demands from the Joint Legislative Select Committee on Investigation.
“My position hasn’t changed,” says Kelly’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, of Roseland’s Critchley, Kinum & Vazquez. “I’m not turning anything over.”
Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, maintained the same stance in a letter dated Tuesday to the committee’s special counsel, Reid Schar, of Chicago’s Jenner & Block.
“Mr. Stepien declines to produce documents in response to the subpoena,” wrote Marino, of Marino, Tortorella & Boyle in Chatham. “I can think of no lawful way the committee can obtain documents responsive to its subpoena from Mr. Stepien.”
The committee, voting along party lines on Feb. 10, gave Kelly and Stepien until today to comply with the subpoenas, which originally had been issued in January. The Democrats on the committee rejected arguments that the recipients were protected by the Fifth Amendment.
The panel authorized Schar to take “all necessary steps” to obtain those documents—including emails and texts—if Kelly and Stepien continue to refuse to comply.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the co-chair, says the committee has received Marino’s letter. “We’re in the process of reviewing it and will continue with our efforts to enforce the subpoena on Mr. Stepien,” he says.
Wisniewski says he expects Critchley’s position to be the same as Marino’s, though he has not received a direct communication.
Wisniewski declined to discuss what strategy the committee may employ going forward to enforce the subpoenas.
Marino suggested in his letter that the courts may ultimately determine whether compliance with the subpoenas is mandatory.
“I respectfully suggest that if the committee persists in its refusal to withdraw the subpoena, we confer on an orderly process and schedule for seeking a judicial determination as to the validity of those objections,” he said.
Kelly and Stepien are but two of the many Christie insiders, allies or associates who have been hit with subpoenas since the beginning of the year.
Also under subpoena are Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials: chairman David Samson of Wolff & Samson in West Orange; former director of interstate capital projects David Wildstein, who implemented the closures; and former deputy executive director Bill Baroni.
Wildstein and Baroni resigned in December. Christie fired Kelly after learning that she orchestrated the Sept. 9 through Sept. 13 lane closings with Wildstein, possibly because the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, declined to endorse Christie for reelection.
The attorney for Sokolich confirmed Tuesday that the mayor will not cooperate with a separate inquiry being conducted by Randy Mastro, a former New York City deputy mayor now is with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm hired by Christie’s administration to advise on Bridgegate-related matters.
“While the mayor has gone out of his way to be fair to all parties in this matter, he wants to make sure that he respects the legal proceedings that are ongoing,” wrote Timothy Donohue, of West Orange’s Arleo, Donohue & Biancamano in a letter to Mastro dated Monday. “In light of the parallel investigations being conducted at the same time regarding the same subject matter, I do not believe it would be appropriate for the mayor to be interviewed by you or to produce any documents.”
Neither Mastro nor the governor’s office responded to requests for comment.
Wildstein has complied with requests for documents, which implicated Kelly, but also invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned by lawmakers. He was found to be in contempt, and that matter is being reviewed by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Last month, Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, who has a firm in Chatham, sent a letter to the committee saying that “evidence exists” that Christie knew of the closures beforehand, which Christie has firmly denied.
The committee served 18 more document subpoenas on Feb. 11. Those recipients have until Feb. 24 to comply.
A number of those who have been served with subpoenas from the committee have expressed concern, through their attorneys, that cooperating with the committee could implicate them in an on-going criminal investigation being conducted by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.