William Stepien (The Star-Ledger)
Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, is asking a New Jersey judge to quash a documents subpoena from the legislative committee investigating last September’s closure of George Washington Bridge access lanes.
Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson will rule on the validity of the subpoenas issued to Stepien and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, after a hearing scheduled for next Tuesday.
Both have invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, but the Legislative Select Committee on Investigation says the privilege does not apply to demands for documents.
In a brief to be filed with Jacobson on Tuesday, Stepien’s attorney, Kevin Marino of Chatham’s Marino, Tortorella & Boyle, took issue with that stance.
“The committee makes the yet more absurd argument that Mr. Stepien cannot rely on the Fifth Amendment because he is not in any real danger of incrimination,” Marino said. “To be sure, Mr. Stepien is an innocent man. But his innocence by no means ensures, or even suggests, that he will not be ‘ensnared by ambiguous circumstances’ if forced to comply with the subpoena.”
“It is well settled that, in addition to proscribing compulsory oral testimony that might tend to incriminate the speaker, the Fifth Amendment protects innocent individuals against the forced compulsion of acts that might tend to incriminate them,” he said.
In a series of rulings, the New Jersey Supreme Court has adopted the “act-of-production” doctrine, which”inoculates people from being forced to contribute to their own prosecution,” Marino added.
Marino revealed in the brief that the Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted Stepien on Jan. 17, asking if he would be interviewed, and Stepien declined. Further, in mid-February, the FBI questioned Stepien’s Mercer County landlord about his conduct and character, including whether he was married, if he was a rowdy tenant and if he paid his rent on time, the brief said.
In a footnote, Marino expressed displeasure at the decision of the committee’s cochairman, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, to disclose to the media that the committee’s special counsel, Reid Schar, of Chicago’s Jenner & Block, has met with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to discuss the case.
“That a politician armed with subpoena power and spoiling for higher office—particularly one who has openly prejudged his investigation and whose counsel is consulting with federal prosecutors overseeing a similar investigation—can so freely disclose the information his legislative committee obtains by subpoena and provide the press with real-time updates on that evidence, conduct that would violate Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure if engaged in by the United States Attorney proceeding by grand jury subpoenas, is a problem for another day,” Marino said.
Wisniewski was unavailable Monday night for comment.
Kelly’s attorney, Michael Critchley, of Roseland’s Critchley, Kinum & Vazquez, has been given an extension of until Thursday to file his brief in opposition to the subpoena.