NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A federal judge on Friday denied a request by an unidentified person prosecutors believe was involved in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal to further delay the release of names of unindicted co-conspirators in the plot.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton had ordered the government to release the list of names by noon Friday in response to a motion filed in January by The Associated Press and other media organizations.
But she pushed the deadline back to Tuesday after someone filed an anonymous motion late Thursday seeking to stop publication of the list. She denied that request, but her decision was appealed to a federal appeals court late Friday.
The person who filed the anonymous request to block publication is referred to as John Doe in court papers. Doe's lawyer, Jenny Kramer, contended his reputation would be damaged by being "publicly branded a felon."
"That sacred right — the right not to be branded a criminal without due process of law — will never be diminished, no matter how much media attention the Bridgegate fiasco attracts," Kramer wrote.
The judge ruled earlier in the week that the list should be released because the public's interest outweighs privacy concerns, particularly since it names people who have not been charged with crimes.
The U.S. attorney's office, which is prosecuting two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie in the lane-closing scandal, also opposed the release of the list.
In a brief Friday, Bruce Rosen, an attorney for the media companies, called Doe's attempt "frivolous and desperate." He said the motion for a hearing was essentially an attempt to reopen the case and is unsupported by legal precedent since Doe hadn't demonstrated "extraordinary circumstances."
In addition, Rosen wrote, Doe's argument was without merit because his name likely will be divulged at trial, making the withholding of the names merely delaying the inevitable.
Kramer, who served under Christie when he was U.S. attorney, responded that Rosen's contention that her client wouldn't be harmed by the release of the names was "absurd."
"If John Doe did not join the conspiracy to block access to the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution, publishing a Government letter saying that he did is a supreme injustice," she wrote.
Wigenton said in her ruling that she was puzzled that Doe waited until the night before the list was to be released to attempt to intervene, and disagreed with Kramer's argument that he wasn't given a chance for due process.
Bridget Kelly, Christie's then-deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, face federal wire fraud and civil rights charges and are scheduled for trial this fall. The Port Authority oversees the bridge operations.
Kelly and Baroni are accused of engineering the lane closures to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor had declined to endorse Christie for re-election. They have pleaded not guilty and have sought to have the charges dismissed.
Christie, a former presidential candidate and now a key Donald Trump supporter, has not been charged and has denied advance knowledge of the closures. This week he said it was "highly doubtful" he was on the list of unindicted co-conspirators.
Associated Press writer Josh Cornfield in Trenton contributed to this story.
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