NEWARK, N.J. >> A federal judge has ruled New Jersey can’t be sued for the actions of some of its employees in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
An ongoing lawsuit filed more than three years ago by some residents and businesses in Fort Lee, a town next to the bridge, argues the state should be held liable for the politically motivated traffic jams deliberately caused in September 2013.
A former aide to Republican Gov. Chris Christie and two other people have either pleaded guilty or been convicted. Former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly sent an infamous email saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” a few weeks before the four days of gridlock began.
In a ruling last week, U.S. District Judge Jose Linares cited the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, which “bars the State from being held liable for the intentional wrongdoing of its employees.”
Kelly and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni were convicted last fall and were sentenced to prison this spring for their roles in the Bridgegate conspiracy. They have appealed their convictions and are free on bail, tentatively scheduled to report to prison in late September.
The bridge, among the busiest in the world, links Fort Lee with New York City.
Christie’s former high school classmate David Wildstein admitted using his position at the Port Authority to orchestrate the scheme to retaliate against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election.
Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein remain as defendants in the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages. The Port Authority and Christie’s re-election campaign organization also are defendants.
Christie has denied he knew of the Bridgegate plot and wasn’t charged. But Wildstein, Kelly and Baroni contradicted Christie’s account that he didn’t know about the traffic jams or their purpose until months afterward.