US & Canada

Chris Christie sued over New Jersey bridge scandal

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie leaves after a visit to Fort Lee City Hall 9 January 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Governor Chris Christie travelled to Fort Lee on Thursday to apologise to the mayor of the borough affected by the traffic problems

Six New Jersey residents are suing Governor Chris Christie over claims his office created gridlock on a major bridge as part of a political vendetta.

The traffic mayhem was allegedly instigated in revenge against a mayor who declined to endorse Mr Christie.

Lawyer Rosemarie Arnold, who filed the lawsuit, said her clients were late for work and one had had a panic attack.

State legislators have released nearly 1,000 pages relating to their probe of the incident.

The document cache sheds further light on the closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey to Manhattan.

A 12 September letter from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to then-Port Authority deputy director Bill Baroni said the lane closures had "wreaked havoc" on the community.

"Many members of the public have indicated to me that [New York and New Jersey] Port Authority Police Officers are advising commuters in response to their complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision that I, as the mayor, recently made," he wrote in the letter.

"The basis, reason, or genesis of the decision is of no consequence to me; however, its profound and adverse impact on our community is of paramount importance to me," Mr Sokolich added.

Mr Baroni - who was appointed to his former post by Mr Christie and resigned in December - also subsequently emailed a fellow Port Authority official, saying that there could be "no public discourse" on the lane closure incident.

'Fictional' traffic study

Mr Christie, seen as a potential future Republican presidential candidate, said on Thursday he felt "embarrassed and humiliated" by the incident and denied any involvement, blaming "deceitful" staff.

He fired his top aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, after communications that apparently showed her engineering the lane closures were made public a day earlier.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Ms Kelly wrote on 13 August to David Wildstein, a political appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bridget Anne Kelly was Mr Christie's deputy chief of staff at the governor's office

"Got it," Mr Wildstein, who has since resigned, replied.

He refused to testify on Thursday in a hearing investigating the matter, repeatedly invoking his fifth amendment right not to incriminate himself.

The lawsuit filed on Thursday, which seeks class-action status, calls for unspecified damages for those who were late to work and lost pay because of the lane closures.

The plaintiffs accuse Mr Christie, Ms Kelly, Mr Wildstein and the Port Authority of conspiring and committing "acts of official misconduct", then covering it up with a "fictional traffic study".

It claims the residents "suffered economic damages" as a result of the delays.

In Thursday's two-hour news conference, Mr Christie said he was "heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust".

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Media captionChristie appointee David Wildstein invoked the fifth amendment in a hearing on Thursday about the lane closures

He also said he had withdrawn support for his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to become New Jersey Republican party chairman, because of the "callous indifference" he had shown in emails about the traffic jams.

The Democratic-controlled state legislature has been investigating the closures for several months but the allegations have gained national prominence after the emails and texts from Mr Christie's office were released.

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