Lawsuit over bridge lane closures assailed in court filings
A former high-level appointee of Gov. Chris Christie and several fellow defendants who were sued over the George Washington Bridge lane closures are fighting back in court documents.
In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed Tuesday, former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Bill Baroni claimed residents and business owners in Fort Lee failed to specify any damages that occurred and didn't produce evidence to connect him to the alleged plot.
The suit is "a set of conspiracy allegations in search of a class action that does not exist," Baroni's attorney, John Sullivan, wrote.
The traffic jams caused massive gridlock in Fort Lee in September 2013, allegedly as retaliation against Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for re-election. Baroni, Christie's appointee as deputy executive director at the Port Authority, and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly are scheduled to go on trial in April on criminal charges stemming from the closures.
Former Port Authority official David Wildstein pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Baroni and Kelly. Wildstein also is a defendant in the civil suit.
Christie hasn't been charged criminally and isn't a defendant in the lawsuit. His former press secretary, Michael Drewniak, and his re-election organization are defendants along with the Port Authority, Wildstein and Kelly. All but Kelly filed motions to dismiss on Tuesday.
The 10 counts alleged in the lawsuit include racketeering, deprivation of constitutional rights, conspiracy, consumer fraud, breach of contract and other violations.
It alleges the defendants took part in various parts of the scheme to target Sokolich for not endorsing Christie, then concocted a bogus story about a traffic study to cover their tracks
Additional arguments made by Baroni and other defendants in their filings:
-- the suit incorporates material from a 2014 report issued by law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher that concluded Wildstein and Kelly -- not Baroni -- were behind the lane closures;
-- consumer fraud and state racketeering charges can't be pursued against the Port Authority because, as a bistate agency, it isn't liable under laws of either New Jersey or New York unless both states have identical laws, which in this case they don't;
-- a claim of a constitutional right to travel can only apply if travel is prohibited, not delayed;
-- the suit doesn't provide any evidence the defendants acted on behalf of Christie's re-election organization;
-- going against legal precedent, the suit claims Drewniak "had prior knowledge, agreement and participation in the lane (realignment) plan" because his emails after the fact didn't ask questions or seek explanations;
-- the plaintiffs rely on statements by Wildstein -- "a convicted felon" -- rather than on evidence to show Baroni agreed to push the plan forward.
An attorney for the plaintiffs didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.
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