'Bridgegate' convictions of ex-aides to NJ governor partially reversed

Nov 27 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday partially overturned the convictions of two onetime associates of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie over the "Bridgegate" lane-closing scandal that helped scuttle his presidential ambitions.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia threw out the civil rights convictions of Bill Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff.

It upheld their convictions for wire fraud and misusing Port Authority resources.

"There is no facially legitimate justification for defendants' conduct here," Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica wrote for a 3-0 panel.

Both defendants will be resentenced. Baroni and Kelly, both 46, have been free since being sentenced in March 2017 to respective prison terms of two years and 1-1/2 years.

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New Jersey's 'Bridgegate' scandal
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New Jersey's 'Bridgegate' scandal
FORT LEE, NJ - SEPTEMBER 7: Traffic approaches the George Washington Bridge, September 7, 2016 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Jury selection begins on Thursday for the New Jersey 'Bridgegate' trial. Two former allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stand accused of intentionally causing traffic gridlock in Fort Lee during morning rush hour for a week in September 2013. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Protesters hold a picture depicting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie outside the U.S. District Court following the guilty verdict of David Wildstein in Newark, New Jersey May 1, 2015. Wildstein, a former ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Friday pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the George Washington Bridge closure scandal, delivering another blow to Christie's image at a time when he is trying to get his presidential campaign off the ground. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
This combination of March 29, 2017, file photos shows Bridget Kelly, left, leaving federal court after sentencing in Newark, N.J., and Bill Baroni leaving federal court after sentencing in Newark. The two former allies of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who were convicted in November 2016 of fraud, conspiracy and civil rights violations for closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013, are challenging their convictions in federal court, with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia set to consider the case on April 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
David Samson exits Newark federal court in New Jersey July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Bridget Anne Kelly, (C) former deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, exits the court in the Bridgegate trial at the Federal Courthouse in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
FORT LEE, NJ - SEPTEMBER 7: Cars travel across the George Washington Bridge, September 7, 2016 over the Hudson River between Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York City. Jury selection begins on Thursday for the New Jersey 'Bridgegate' trial. Two former allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stand accused of intentionally causing traffic gridlock in Fort Lee during morning rush hour for a week in September 2013. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Bill Baroni (C), former deputy executive director of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, exits the court in the Bridgegate trial at the Federal Courthouse in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
David Samson (2nd L) exits Newark federal court in New Jersey July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during a news conference in Trenton, New Jersey March 28, 2014. On Thursday a law firm hired by Christie, a potential Republican 2016 contender for the White House, released a report clearing him of wrongdoing in the "Bridgegate" scandal. Critics quickly dismissed the report as a whitewash. REUTERS/Mark Makela (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 04: Bridget Anne Kelly, (L) former deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, reacts after she was found guilty in the Bridgegate trial while her attorney Michael Critchley speaks with members of the media at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Courthouse on November 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Kelly broke down in tears on the stand as she testified that Christie knew about the lane closures in Fort Lee, New Jersey that brought traffic on the George Washington Bridge to a near standstill. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - May 01: High school students demonstrate outside the United States District Court May 1, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. Former Port Authority appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to the misuse of Port Authority property and to the violattion of the civil rights of Fort Lee residents in the George Washington Bridge case. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
TRENTON, NJ - JANUARY 9: David Wildstein (R) former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority and his attorney Alan Zegas (L) is sworn in to testify at a hearing held by the Assembly Transportation Committee January 9, 2014 in Trenton, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. The committee has subpoenaed David Wildstein former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority to testify about the agency's decision to temporarily close some access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
TRENTON, NJ - JANUARY 9: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks about his knowledge of a traffic study that snarled traffic at the George Washington Bridge during a news conference on January 9, 2014 at the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
FORT LEE, NJ - JANUARY 09: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie enters the Borough Hall in Fort Lee to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich on January 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. According to reports Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - MAY 04: Former deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Bill Baroni speaks at a press conference in front of the federal courthouse on May 4, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. Baroni was arraigned for his alleged involvement in the Bridgegate scandal that resulted from politically-motivated lane closures on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
David Wildstein exits the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey May 1, 2015. Wildstein, a former ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Friday pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the George Washington Bridge closure scandal, delivering another blow to Christie's image at a time when he is trying to get his presidential campaign off the ground. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (2nd L) tours the fire area with his Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (R) and Office of Emergency Management personnel at the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey on September 12, 2013 in this handout photo obtained by Reuters on January 9, 2014. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said at a news conference on January 9, 2014 that he had fired Kelly in the wake of a scandal involving the closure of lanes on the George Washington bridge during a political campaign in September. REUTERS/Tim Larsen/Governor's Office/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L) departs City Hall in Fort Lee, New Jersey January 9, 2014. Christie met with the mayor of Fort Lee to discuss a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge in September to settle a political score. Christie said at a separate news conference he was stunned and heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the traffic jam designed to punish Sokolich who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
FORT LEE, NJ - SEPTEMBER 7: Traffic approaches the George Washington Bridge, September 7, 2016 in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Jury selection begins on Thursday for the New Jersey 'Bridgegate' trial. Two former allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stand accused of intentionally causing traffic gridlock in Fort Lee during morning rush hour for a week in September 2013. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
David Wildstein, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Director of Interstate Capital Projects and an ally of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, appears at a hearing to testify in front of state lawmakers at the New Jersey State Capitol in Trenton, New Jersey, January 9, 2014. Wildstein declined to answer questions at the State Assembly hearing on Thursday, repeatedly invoking the constitutional protection not to say anything that might incriminate him. Wildstein has admitted ordering lane closures on the George Washington Bridge amid a growing controversy over the closures that Democrats are calling political payback. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014. Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge to settle a political score. Christie told a news conference he was stunned and heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the traffic jam designed to punish a local mayor who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich speaks at a news conference in Fort Lee, New Jersey January 9, 2014. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge in September to settle a political score. Christie said at a separate news conference he was stunned and heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the traffic jam designed to punish Sokolich who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gives a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014. Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washington Bridge to settle a political score. Christie told a news conference he was stunned and heartbroken by revelations that his staff was behind the traffic jam designed to punish a local mayor who declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson asks a question during a court hearing for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly in Trenton, New Jersey March 11, 2014. A New Jersey Superior Court judge was scheduled to hear arguments on Tuesday about whether Kelly and Christie's former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, have to turn over documents to a New Jersey state legislative committee investigating the September 2013 lane closures on the George Washington bridge. REUTERS/Mel Evans/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (C) and attorney Edmund DeNoia (R) listen to attorney Michael Critchley as they wait in court for a hearing in Trenton, New Jersey March 11, 2014. A New Jersey Superior Court judge was scheduled to hear arguments on Tuesday about whether Kelly and Christie's former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, have to turn over documents to a New Jersey state legislative committee investigating the September 2013 lane closures on the George Washington bridge. REUTERS/Mel Evans/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS)
Attorney Kevin H. Marino, representing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's former campaign manager Bill Stepien, makes a point during a court hearing in Trenton, New Jersey March 11, 2014. A New Jersey Superior Court judge was scheduled to hear arguments on Tuesday about whether Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Stepien have to turn over documents to a New Jersey state legislative committee investigating the September 2013 lane closures on the George Washington bridge. REUTERS/Mel Evans/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly makes her way through a crush of media with her attorney as she arrives at Mercer County Court in Trenton, New Jersey, March 11, 2014. A New Jersey Superior Court judge was scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday about whether Kelly and Christie's former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, have to turn over documents to a New Jersey state legislative committee investigating the September 2013 lane closures on the George Washington bridge. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ - SEPTEMBER 12: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (C) and Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (L) stand at the scene of a boardwalk fire September 12, 2013 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. According to reports January 8, 2014, Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about two weeks before two lanes of the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Phil Stilton/Getty Images)
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ - SEPTEMBER 12: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (C) and Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly (R) stand at the scene of a boardwalk fire September 12, 2013 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. According to reports January 8, 2014, Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is accused of giving a signal to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about two weeks before two lanes of the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as punishment for the Fort Lee, New Jersey mayor not endorsing the Governor during the election. (Photo by Phil Stilton/Getty Images)
FILE In this Tuesday, May 6, 2014, file photograph, former aide to Gov. Chris Christie, Christina Renna, testifies before New Jersey lawmakers probing the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal. Renna texted to a colleague that the New Jersey governor "flat out lied" during a news conference about the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal, according to a new court filing. A transcript of the text is contained in court filings submitted late Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016, by attorneys representing Bill Baroni, who faces trial next month with Christie's ex-deputy chief of staff for allegedly helping to orchestrate the September 2013 lane closures. . (AP Photo/Mel Evans,file)
FILE – In this Oct. 19, 2016, file photo, William Brennan, a former firefighter in Teaneck, N.J., discusses his citizen's complaint alleging Republican Gov. Chris Christie failed to put a stop to September 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, as Brennan stands outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Newark, N.J. Like Christie, Brennan is blunt and outspoken, referring to prosecutors as "low-life," "slop," "garbage" and "derelict in their duty" after a Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, court hearing about his citizen's complaint. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)
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Prosecutors accused the defendants of arranging a September 2013 shutdown of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the world's busiest bridge, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, causing several days of gridlock.

This was allegedly done to punish Fort Lee's Democratic mayor Mark Sokolich for refusing to endorse the successful re-election of Christie, a Republican, as governor.

Christie denied involvement and was not charged, but the scandal hurt his national profile and contributed to record-low approval ratings in New Jersey.

Michael Levy and Michael Critchley, lawyers who respectively represent Baroni and Kelly, said their clients were pleased the civil rights counts were thrown out. Baroni is exploring another appeal, and Kelly plans an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The office of U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito in New Jersey is reviewing the decision, a spokesman said.

Scirica said the defendants should not have been convicted for impeding the travel of Fort Lee residents as a means to punish Sokolich.

He said courts disagree on what that right entails, and the defendants could not have known they might be violating it.

Convictions that were upheld related to various emails from Baroni and Kelly, including in August 2013 when Kelly told Port Authority executive David Wildstein it was " ime for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," and their roles in creating a sham "traffic study" to justify the lane closures.

Scirica said this led to "reallocating the flow of traffic and commandeering public employee time in a manner that made no economic or practical sense."

Wildstein, the accused Bridgegate mastermind, was sentenced to probation in July 2017 after pleading guilty and cooperating with prosecutors.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang)

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