By Matt Rooney
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni won a major victory in front of the U.S. Supreme Court back in May when the High Court tossed out their Bridgegate federal criminal convictions. Still, some Kelly-Baroni supporters were worried – albeit not severely – over the possibility that state charges over in the infamous 2013 Fort Lee lane closures.
Those fears are probably no longer warranted, or at least they will be in a matter of days.
The statute of limitations for New Jersey “official misconduct” is 7 years. Today is September 9, 2020. The now-infamous lane closures ran from September 9th to 13th in 2013. That means charges would likely need to be brought by the end of the calendar week or the SOL would tie state prosecutors’ hands.
“Official Misconduct” (2C:30-2) is broader charge than the federal charges which were brought in the original Bridgegate case. There’s no need to prove that someone fraudulently sought to obtain property or money (a weak fit in a lane closure case). All that needs too be shown is the official had the goal of injuring someone or enriching themselves and “[h]e commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official functions, knowing that such act is unauthorized or he is committing such act in an unauthorized manner.”
During the SCOTUS oral argument, Bridget Kelly’s attorney Yaakov M. Roth conceded that “[t]here may also be state-law constraints on official abuses of authority. In fact, New Jersey has a statute called ‘Official Misconduct’ that is specifically directed toward unauthorized decisions with bad purposes.”
I mused after the SCOTUS decision came down about whether Team Murphy would bring official misconduct charges for political reasons; reminding his base about why they hate Chris Christie isn’t illogical heading into a reelection cycle (even if you find the prospect of bringing criminal charges for political gain ironically in-sync with the Bridgegate mentality).
Well, it looks like Murphy has his hands full inventing new reasons to keep his COVID-19 emergency going and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is occupied suing Donald Trump. It’s also unlikely that any alleged lies told by Kelly or Baroni in the aftermath of the lane closures and ensuing traffic jam would neatly fit the official misconduct standard.
I’d say Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni are finally (officially) in the clear.