NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A law firm whose taxpayer-funded investigation cleared Republican Gov. Chris Christie of wrongdoing in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal won't have to turn over notes from the probe that it claims don't exist anyway, a federal judge presiding over the criminal case stemming from the closures ruled Wednesday.
Though she agreed with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP's assertions that it doesn't have the purported notes sought by two defendants in the case, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton objected to the firm's "unorthodox" practice of summarizing interviews electronically as they occurred and then editing them into a final version.
"Although GDC did not delete or shred documents, the process of overwriting their interview notes and drafts of the summaries had the same effect," Wigenton wrote. "This was a clever tactic, but when public investigations are involved, straightforward lawyering is superior to calculated strategy. The taxpayers of the State of New Jersey paid GDC millions of dollars to conduct a transparent and thorough investigation. What they got instead was opacity and gamesmanship. They deserve better."
Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Bill Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly face federal charges for allegedly orchestrating the closures for revenge against Fort Lee's mayor for not endorsing Christie. They have pleaded not guilty. Former Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty and is expected to testify for the government.
Baroni and Kelly sought notes and materials beyond the firm's final report because, among other things, the report concluded the lane closings weren't orchestrated for political retribution, in direct contrast to what the U.S. attorney's office alleged in the indictment unsealed last spring.
Also, they claimed in court filings that at least two Christie staffers interviewed by the law firm later told a legislative committee also investigating the lane closings that the law firm's summaries of their interviews were inaccurate or misleading.
In court filings, Gibson Dunn called the subpoena a "fishing expedition" and said it didn't possess the types of notes sought.