Bill Baroni, a defendant in the Bridgegate trial, will testify Monday and, boy, he’d better be good because, so far, his case is depending on people like Marilyn Graber who wanted the jury to know she has three “fabulous” grandchildren and lost 135 pounds at a weight loss clinic at Duke University where she met the nicest man 21 years ago. And his name was Bill Baroni.
Ok, so it’s not nice to poke fun at eager character witnesses who, after all, only want to help out a friend in a legal jam. But, aside from Christie aide Charles McKenna–who wasn’t much help–Baroni’s defense so far has called Mrs. Graber and two other character witnesses, all of whom had to admit they didn’t have the foggiest notion of the case against their friend.
So, on Monday, according to Michael Baldassare, his lawyer, Baroni will take the stand and he sure has a lot of explaining to do. There may be one other witness before him, says Baldassare but, unless its Pope Francis coming in with inside information about how Christie himself moved the orange cones, the testimony from whomever it is won’t make much of a difference.
Baroni is likely to make a good witness. He’s tall and attractive and has an easy manner tinged with inclusive good humor–he doesn’t mind making jokes about himself. He is a lawyer and was a state legislator, one of the last–maybe THE last–moderate Republican to grace the Statehouse.
As Baldassare said in his opening several years ago–no, it was just four weeks–he was too moderate for the incoming Christie administration (he supported gay marriage and family leave), so he was shipped out to a six-figure job at the Port Authority where he could provide work for David Wildstein and not vote against Christie’s 17th century legislative agenda in Trenton.
To emphasize Baroni’s moderation Friday, Baldassare called a character witness named David Mixner who just about described Baroni as something to the left of Bernie Sanders on gay rights, the environment, civil rights, on and on.
“We became fast friends and literally solved the problems of the world each week,” said Mixner before objections from the government cut off the Woody-Guthrie-like hymn of praise.
Character witnesses are, well, not favored by courts because they really can’t attest to anything except a personal opinion about someone’s honesty.
The jurors will probably like Baroni but they also will want to have some answers to important questions before they vote on his guilt or innocence. Like–if you weren’t helping to put the squeeze on Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, why didn’t you pick up your damn cell phone and tell him why “concrete gridlock”–Sokolich’s phrase–was constipating the town?
Because Bill, you did, after all, have the time in those days of crisis in September, 2013, to send emails and text and make calls to the likes of your co-defendant Bridget Anne Kelly and almost co-defendant David Wildstein, now the government’s chief witness?
Baroni’s only substantive witness–Christie staff chief Charles McKenna–opened a door a little bit during his testimony–by saying the reason no one wanted to let people know about the so-called “traffic study” was that it might affect the behavior of motorists and thereby “skew” the results of the study. Real scientific stuff.
Nice try, Charlie, a sort of an evidentiary Hail Mary–except, starting with PA executive director Patrick Foye–no one but no one in the Port Authority said there was a traffic study. If Baroni insists to the jury he believed there was one, he will come off either as a gracious liar–and guilty–or an incredibly stupid man who deserves to be found guilty of something just as payback for cosmic obtuseness.
McKenna even walked away from that excuse during his last day of testimony by saying that, while, maybe, the PA shouldn’t have told motorists about the study, it should have informed the cops, firefighters and EMS workers who had to deal with the traffic. He made a distinction between “public disclosure and public safety.”
Baroni also will have to explain why he didn’t give a damn about how the people of Fort Lee would be impacted–or forgot to give a damn–when he was, in past events, so solicitous of New Jersey residents when the PA wanted to pave a road.
And, in those infamous pictures, just what was Baroni talking and laughing about with Christie and Wildstein during the 9/11 ceremonies that year? The jokes told at the memorial service? Yeah, 9/11 remembrances are a laugh a minute.
Finally, the last piece of evidence introduced by the government was a tape of Baroni’s performance before the legislative committee investigating the lane closures. He was, on occasion, a little snarky, a little wise-ass, dealing with his former colleagues. If Baroni comes across as an altar-boy to the jury Monday–even a double-crossed altar-boy who listened unwisely but too well to Father Christie–the jurors will wonder who the real Bill Baroni is.
No matter how much weight he lost. No matter how much he supported LGBTQ rights.
There is still some hope, if not much, for another way for the trial to end. Defense lawyers concluded the abbreviated session Friday by routinely moving for dismissal of the case, mostly on the grounds that the prosecution had not presented sufficient evidence to lead a reasonable jury to find guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
These motions sometimes win.
As a cultural event, however, it was interesting to watch Michael Critchley, Jr–the son of Bridget Kelly’s lead attorney–argue one aspect of the motion. Baroni and Kelly have been charged with depriving motorists of their constitutional right to move freely.
Critchley rightly pointed out there is always traffic at the George Washington Bridge. “Traffic is the state of affairs in Fort Lee,” he said.
So, how, he asked Judge Shirley Wigenton to consider, does traffic ever become criminalized?
“We didn’t cause traffic–the traffic already was there. The issue is how much more traffic does it take to rise to the level of a deprivation of a constitutional right?”
Judge Wigenton politely said thank you and said she would have a decision Monday.
Bill Baroni will have a lot of explaining to do.