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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Judge: Christie ex-aides can withhold documents

Wednesday, 09 April 2014 16:18 Published in National News
   Two former associates of Gov. Chris Christie do not have to hand over documents to a legislative committee investigating the traffic jam scandal engulfing the governor, a New Jersey judge ruled Wednesday.
   Former Christie loyalists Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien had been fighting subpoenas calling for them to turn over documents regarding the plot to create traffic jams in Fort Lee to retaliate against the town's Democratic mayor. The legislative panel asked for the court's help in getting the two to comply.
   Calling the decision one involving "complicated and untested jurisdictional issues," Judge Mary Jacobson expressed reservations about using judicial power to compel the production of documents.
   "The fact that the committee has the power to enforce its own subpoenas through orders to compel and grant immunity in return, and the lack of a clear jurisdictional basis for this court to intrude upon that power, raises serious questions concerning the exercise of judicial power," Jacobson wrote in the 98-page opinion.
   Her ruling is almost certain to be appealed. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the investigative committee's Democratic co-chair, said he and his colleagues would consult with their attorneys on any further moves.
   "The committee felt it was very much in the public interest to seek to compel the production of these documents, but as we've said before, there's more than one method to gather information in an investigation, and we will consider alternatives," Wisniewski said Wednesday. "We will continue exploring every avenue to find out what happened with this threat to public safety and abuse of government power."
   The case has become a major distraction for Christie and is threatening to derail any plans to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
   A report that exonerated him has done little to quell critics, because it was written by lawyers he hired and did not include interviews with key figures such as Kelly, Stepien and David Wildstein, the political operative who is believed to have dreamed up the scheme.
   Attorneys for Kelly and Stepien have asserted that the pair's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination due to an ongoing federal criminal investigation into the September traffic jams.
   The legislative panel's attorneys argued that the law does not entitle Kelly and Stepien to blanket protections from such subpoenas. They maintain that exceptions would have to be argued case-by-case.
   Christie fired Kelly, who was a deputy chief of staff in the governor's office, and cut ties with Stepien, his former campaign manager, after learning in January that Kelly set the lane closings in motion with the message, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
   Though no evidence has been made public that Stepien knew of the plot in advance, Christie said he lost confidence in his adviser's judgment after reading emails in which he refers to Fort Lee's mayor as "an idiot" and appears to shrug off the traffic chaos the plot was causing.
   Christie has said he had no knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings until well afterward.
   Wildstein says he talked to Christie about the traffic jams on Sept. 11, the third day the lanes were blocked, but Christie says he doesn't recall the conversation. Stepien and others were forwarded an email from the mayor complaining about the gridlock on Sept. 12, the fourth and final full day that the lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge were blocked. The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency in charge of the bridge, ordered the approach lanes reopened the morning of Sept. 13.
   Stepien has since found work with a Republican consulting firm based in Minnesota. Kelly, a single mother of four, is unemployed.
   Their lawyers contend that the legislative panel could grant Kelly and Stepien immunity from prosecution in exchange for the documents. Reid Schar, the panel's lead lawyer, says the joint legislative body has no such powers.
   Other people and organizations close to Christie, including his re-election campaign, are complying with legislative subpoenas. The first to do so was Wildstein, who turned over documents the committee requested but later invoked his Fifth Amendment right when called before the committee to testify.

12 hurt in Orlando-area day care center crash

Wednesday, 09 April 2014 15:44 Published in National News
   WINTER PARK, Fla. (AP) — A vehicle crashed into an Orlando-area day care Wednesday, injuring a dozen people, 11 of them children, a Florida Highway Patrol official said.
   Several were reported to be "very, very serious condition," said highway patrol spokeswoman Wanda Diaz. The injured include 11 children and one adult.
   "This is a very fluid situation and we need as much as help as possible," FHP spokeswoman Wanda Diaz said.
   Diaz said a silver or grayish Dodge Durango crashed into a vehicle that then struck the KinderCare building in Winter Park. The Durango then left.
   The vehicle is believed to have damage to the front bumper. Anyone with information is urged to call the patrol at 407-737-2300 or 911.
   "Please keep a look out and let us know if you see anything," said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said.
   Jacobs called the crash an "absolute tragedy and disaster."
   Local television footage showed small children and infants in cribs taken outside on the day care's playground and several of the injured were carried out on stretchers.
   The highway patrol reported that the injured were taken to five different hospitals.
   A woman who answered the phone at KinderCare said she didn't have time to talk.
 

   Two people are facing charges and third is still at large in a kidnapping and robbery on the campus of SIU-Edwardsville.  At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, campus police said the victim had been set up by a friend.  

   Two other SIU-E students, 18 year old Jabreel Watson and 20 year old Shantel Rogers are charged with felony kidnapping, armed robbery and burglary.  Police say they are still looking for a third suspect, an unidentified male.  

   On April 2nd an SIU-E student had reported being set upon outside his residence hall.  He reported being forced into a car at gunpoint, driven to an ATM and forced to withdraw cash.  He wasn't injured.  

   Police are hoping surveillance video from the ATM's camera will help in their search for the third suspect.

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