NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Two lawsuits filed by people stuck in traffic jams caused by apparently politically motivated lane closings of the George Washington Bridge will move forward without New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a defendant, a lawyer in the case said Wednesday.
A federal judge this week consolidated the two cases, one of which named Christie as a defendant along with other government officials including former Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, who sent an email saying: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Attorney Barry Epstein said a new lawsuit will be filed in place of the consolidated complaints and it won't name Christie as a defendant because there's been no evidence the Republican governor was involved in the closings, allegedly ordered in retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.
"Any attorney with proper scruples isn't going to sue the governor of a state unless there's a sufficient basis to do it," Epstein said. "There's no evidence he participated in the order or that he had anything to do with it."
The lane closings have been the subject of investigations by the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey and a state legislative committee, and a source of speculation as to how the scandal might affect Christie's political future.
The governor is expected to announce in the next few months whether he will run for president in 2016.
Christie has said he had no knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings until well afterward, and a taxpayer-funded report by lawyers hired by Christie arrived at the same conclusions. The Democrat-controlled legislative panel in an interim report on its inquiry didn't find any proof of a direct connection between the governor and the lane closures.
The two lawsuits made several claims, including deprivation of constitutional rights to due process and freedom of movement, official misconduct, conspiracy and racketeering. One case was filed by several people who said they were late for work because of the traffic jams; the other was filed by several limousine and taxi companies.
Besides Kelly, others targeted in the lawsuits include former Christie campaign chairman Bill Stepien, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and former Port Authority officials Bill Baroni and David Wildstein. Baroni and Wildstein both resigned in the wake of the scandal; Kelly was fired and Christie cut ties with Stepien.