By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - A New Jersey federal judge has extended the deadline to Tuesday for U.S. prosecutors to release a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the "Bridgegate" scandal, while she weighs a request from an individual on the list to keep it sealed.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Newark earlier this week had ordered the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman for New Jersey to file the list by noon EDT (1600 GMT) on Friday after a consortium of media companies filed a motion seeking the information.
The court document could reveal how many individuals in the administration of Governor Chris Christie were aware of the scheme to close down lanes at the George Washington Bridge, a major commuter link to New York City, in what prosecutors say was an act of political retaliation against a local mayor.
Christie, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for his party's presidential nomination this year, has denied knowledge of the plot.
The people on the list have been described in court filings as individuals who joined the conspiracy but have not been criminally charged.
In conspiracy cases, prosecutors do not always charge every person they believe had knowledge of the crime. Investigators may feel they do not have enough evidence to secure a conviction, or the individuals may be cooperating with prosecutors to build a case against others.
The list of names, long a subject of speculation, previously has been provided to defense lawyers.
One of the unindicted co-conspirators late Thursday filed an emergency motion to stay Wigenton's order, arguing that the release of the list "brands him as a criminal without due process of law." The individual did not reveal his name in the court filing.
Wigenton said she would consider the individual's request for a hearing and gave the media companies until 12:30 EDT Friday to file a response. The new deadline for the list's release is noon on Tuesday.
Prosecutors have charged three people in the case.
Two of them, William Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, are scheduled to face trial on charges of wire fraud and civil rights deprivation in September.
The third, David Wildstein, also a former Port Authority official, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Kelly and Baroni arranged for the September 2013 lane closure in Fort Lee, New Jersey, to pay back the Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's re-election bid, according to prosecutors.
While Christie has not been implicated in the scheme, the release of the list could be an embarrassing distraction for the governor, who is heading up the transition team for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The trial could unfold during the presidential campaign, with the general election set for Nov. 8.
The list may not include every person who prosecutors believe was aware of the scheme. In court filings, prosecutors have distinguished between two lists of names: unindicted co-conspirators who "joined" the conspiracy, and others who may have known of the plan but did not actively join.
It is not clear how many individuals might fit into the latter category.
Bruce Rosen, a lawyer for the media companies, said on Friday he has asked prosecutors to hand over the second set of names. If the request is denied, the companies are prepared to file a motion asking Wigenton to order the government to comply, he said.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jeffrey Benkoe)