Suit revived vs. ex-Christie allies over bridge closings

AP News
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Posted: Aug 06, 2015 8:53 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A lawsuit against former allies of Gov. Chris Christie in connection with the George Washington Bridge lane closings was refiled Thursday, several weeks after a judge dismissed an earlier version.

The amended complaint, a putative class action that combines two lawsuits filed in early 2014 by individuals and businesses affected by the September 2013 lane closures, doesn't name Christie as a defendant.

It names his gubernatorial re-election campaign organization, the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and individuals including former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority official Bill Baroni, both of whom are under federal indictment.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares had dismissed the lawsuit June 30 — coincidentally the day the Republican governor officially announced his run for the presidency — agreeing with the defendants that it didn't offer enough specifics on what any of the defendants did to orchestrate or cover up the alleged scheme.

Since the filing of the two lawsuits more than 18 months ago, however, a glut of documentation has emerged, and Thursday's 87-page amended complaint made liberal use of this to buttress specific claims.

That included a 136-page, December 2014 report by a New Jersey legislative committee; a lengthier, taxpayer-funded report by a law firm commissioned by Christie in early 2014; the 2015 federal indictment of Kelly and Baroni and the guilty plea of David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official who admitted he helped orchestrate the closures as payback for a mayor who wouldn't endorse Christie.

"We understood the district court judge's message that he wanted more detail," plaintiffs' attorney Michael Epstein said. "We think this complaint pleads the allegations of this class action with sufficient particularity, and we're looking forward to moving forward."

The 10 counts alleged in the lawsuit include racketeering, deprivation of constitutional rights, conspiracy, consumer fraud, breach of contract and other violations.

Using information culled from the reports and court documents, the suit lays out a timeline leading up to and after the closures that alleges Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein and former Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak took part in various parts of the scheme to target Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie, then concocted a bogus story about a traffic study to cover their tracks.

Attorneys for Baroni, Wildstein and Drewniak didn't immediately return emails seeking comment after hours Thursday. A lawyer wasn't listed for Kelly.

The lawsuit also describes, from the legislative committee's report, an apparent effort by Christie's campaign in 2013 to curry favor with Sokolich, whose name was on a list of influential mayors to be courted.

Christie allegedly requested $162,000 from the Port Authority in 2012 to pay for shuttle buses from Fort Lee to trans-Hudson River ferries in nearby Edgewater. Later, the suit contends, campaign staffers fretted that Sokolich wasn't publicly giving the governor's office sufficient credit for it.