Fifth Amendment Privilege Claims Spurned by Bridgegate Committee

, New Jersey Law Journal


The New Jersey legislative committee investigating last fall’s suspect closures of George Washington Bridge access lanes has rejected claims of Fifth Amendment privilege raised by two subpoenaed individuals.

The Joint Legislative Select Committee on Investigation voted Monday, along party lines, to enforce document subpoenas issued to Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly.

The panel authorized its special counsel, Reid Schar of Jenner & Block in Chicago, to take “all necessary steps” to obtain those documents—including emails and texts—if the two continue to refuse to comply. Kelly and Stepien have been given until Feb. 17.

“We want to give them one last shot” to answer the subpoenas, said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the committee’s co-chairman. He declined to specify what legal steps might be taken if they still refuse.

Wisniewski and co-chairwoman Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, also announced another round of subpoenas about to be served.

The committee met behind closed doors for nearly two hours before they passed the measures in a public vote.

The four Republicans on the committee abstained, saying they did not have enough time to study the constitutionality of the measures.

Wisniewski and Weinberg said Schar advised the committee that an argument could be made that the Fifth Amendment does not apply to a demand for documents.

A number of those served with subpoenas have expressed concern, through their attorneys, that any cooperation with the committee or compliance with its document demands could implicate them in an ongoing criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

Already served are Christie’s chief of staff and attorney general nominee Kevin O’Dowd; chief counsel Charles McKenna; lead spokesman Michael Drewniak; spokesman Colin Reed; communications director Maria Comella; O’Dowd’s expected successor, Regina Egea; and two other staffers, Christina Genovese and Evan Ridley.

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