On the fifth floor of the federal courthouse in Newark before the same judge who heard David Wildstein’s guilty plea in the BridgeGate case on Friday, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly today both entered not guilty pleas to the nine-count indictment against them that was unsealed.
Both camps signaled that their clients would take the stand in their defense at a trial set to begin in early July. And Bridget Kelly’s attorney Michael Critchley signaled that he would soon put the so-called “Mastro Report” – the investigation by the law firm Gibson Dunn Crutcher done at the behest of Gov. Chris Christie to clear Gov. Chris Christie – under a microscope. He also left open the possibility that the governor may be called as a witness in the trial.
Shortly before 11 a.m., Kelly entered the courtroom with three attorneys, including Critchley. Baroni arrived several minutes later. The two clasped hands, met eyes, and warmly smiled.
In the moments before Judge Susan D. Wigenton entered the courtroom, Critchley turned to the assembled media – fewer than on Friday but crowded nonetheless – and asked “Is Carl Bernstein here? Bob Woodward?”
Both defendants waived the right to have the indictments read in court. Both face felony charges that carry a maximum total sentence (unlikely, of course) of more than 100 years of prison time and fines in excess of $2 million. A trial date was set for July 7, with pre-trial motions due on June 15.
Baroni’s attorney, Michael Baldassare, was all business. Kelly’s attorney, MIchael Critchley, used the moment to tell the judge (and us) that he intended to seek notes, stenographer transcripts, and any audio and video recordings from Gibson, Dunn, Crutcher, which produced the so-called “Mastro Report,” a document that purported to investigate both the BridgeGate and Hoboken allegations leveled against the Christie administration. That report, authored by a team of attorneys led by white-collar litigator Randy Mastro, cleared the governor and lieutenant governor of any wrongdoing. It also came with a price tag of $8 million, a sum Critchley mentioned in court and in a statement that followed outside.
Critchley said he intendeds to inspect the records underlying the Mastro Report and to subpoena any individuals who may help him defend his client. Specifically asked whether that witness list could include Christie, Critchley stressed that he would seek testimony from “everyone involved.”
In a brief statement to reporters, Bill Baroni said that he had kept silent for a year and would welcome the opportunity to testify in court. He stressed that during his career as a Republican state senator from Mercer County, he did not shy away from career-threatening votes in his party in favor of paid family leave, medical marijuana, and marriage equality. He would not, he said, throw away his career for something like the traffic jam at the heart of this case. “I am an innocent man,” he said.
Brian Murphy is a history professor at Baruch College who writes about the intersection of money and politics. You can follow him on Twitter @Burrite and find him at brianphillipsmurphy.com.