Editor’s Note: This story was updated 11:30 a.m. May 7 with a statement from Bill Baroni.
In an opinion issued today, the United States Supreme Court unanimously overturned the convictions of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, two former members of the Christie administration who had been found guilty in 2016 for their roles in the Bridgegate scandal.
Baroni is a Hamilton native, and a graduate of Reynolds Middle School and Steinert High School. The Republican has served in the state assembly and state senate, representing the 14th Legislative District. Then-Gov. Chris Christie later appointed him to the position of deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York.
Baroni and Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, were charged in 2016 with nine counts of conspiracy and wire fraud for their roles in the 2013 scheme to create gridlock traffic on the George Washington Bridge as political retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, who chose not to endorse Christie for re-election.
The Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Elena Kagan, acknowledged that Baroni and Kelly’s acts did not rise to the level of illegal activity.
“The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud,” the court’s decision said. “The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing—deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”
The legal battle lasted for more than three years. The end of the road seemed to have arrived for Baroni a year ago, when on Feb. 26, 2019, he received a sentence of 18 months in federal prison for his role in the scandal. At the time, he had decided against appealing the case further, and entered prison later that year.
But Kelly was successful in having her appeal heard by the Supreme Court, and Baroni quickly jumped on to her case. He was released from prison pending the court’s decision.
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Jan. 14, and issued its ruling nearly four months later. The case has been remanded—sent back to a lower court—for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion.
Baroni issued the following statement to the media May 7, after news of the Supreme Court decision broke:
I am thankful for the Supreme Court of the United States for this clear statement of my innocence. After years of investigations, indictments, trials, appeals and even prison, today the Court has vindicated me and has made clear that I committed no crime.
I have always said I was an innocent and today, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed.
These have been very difficult years for me, my family and my friends. There were many tough days, and it was their faith in me and my innocence that allowed me to get through this.
My legal team has been extraordinary. Mike Levy and the team at Sidley Austin are extraordinary legal professionals, and it was clear the Supreme Court saw one of America’s top lawyers argue my case. Mike and I have known each other from the first day of law school at the University of Virginia. He is an amazing lawyer and true friend.
I have been asked do I regret going into prison even thought I have now been vindicated. I don’t. My fellow inmates at Loretto prison taught me so much about strength, resilience, and determination. They kept me going, even on the other side of the jail bars. And I shall always be there for them. I hope and pray they are well taken care of in this perilous time of COVID-19.
I want to thank my family who supported me and kept me strong. They never let me give up, never let me give in, and encouraged me to keep fighting all the way to the Supreme Court.
I want to thank my friends who were always there for me: coming with me every day to the trial; keeping me upbeat even in dark times and never letting me give up. You can tell who your friends are when you go through something hard; I am so blessed with great and amazing friends.
And thank you to my friends and family in Ireland. Many supported me by their visits, their thoughts, their notes, their prayers. Mile buíochas le mo chairde ar fad in Éirinn.
Today is a long-awaited victory. But, as we are all living in the time of Coronavirus, my joy in being vindicated is tempered by my concern for the people with whom I served time in prison. This is a scary time for all of us; it is especially scary for people in prison who can’t self-isolate; can’t socially distance; can’t stay 6 feet apart. I am going to do all that I can to make sure they are not forgotten.
I have always believed in public service. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled so clearly, I can continue my efforts to serve my community. And I am going to work to help those who are headed to prison, in prison, and getting out of prison. I have learned much in these past seven years about our criminal justice and prison systems. And I am going to spend these next years helping those that are caught in them.