GW Bridge

The George Washington Bridge.

Who has the better argument in the Bridgegate subpoena flap?

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson on April 9 quashed subpoenas that a special investigative committee of the Garden State's legislature served on a pair of former high-level aides to Governor Chris Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly and William Stepien. Judge Jacobson explained her reasons in a 98-page opinion, saying many times that the committee had embarked on a "fishing expedition". The committee insists that it desired no such thing and acted in complete good faith.

You can read the ruling here. (Hat tip to Business Insider.)

The dispute may come down to whether the subpoenas should have asked only for documents that Kelly and Stepien prepared or received in the course of doing their official duties. The subpoenas instead sought ALL documents "regarding the reduction from three to one of the eastbound Fort Lee, New Jersey access lanes to the George Washington Bridge between September 9, 2013 through September 13, 2014." That, per the court's opinion, "would include contacts between Mr. Stepien and his family members simply discussing the lane closures in a non-official, purely personal way."

Judge Jacobson held that forcing Kelly and Stepien to turn over responsive documents would amount to requiring them to admit that the documents they produced "regard[ed]" the lane closures and thus would compel them perhaps to incriminate themselves, in violation of their right under the fifth amendment not to have to do that. But the legislators claimed that a lot of the documents in fact belonged to the State of New Jersey and that Kelly and Stepien could have no legitimate claim to withhold them, fifth amendment or not.

The court rejected that point — which strikes Blawgletter as a pretty good one — on the ground that just because the subpoenas asked for some materials "that may fall within the required-records exception is not a sufficient reason to order the defendants to comply with the overbroad subpoenas without a grant of immunity". "The court will not engage in redrafting the subpoenas, which are so facially overbroad that any 'judicial surgery' would be unworkable."

So. The court declined to narrow the subpoenas so that they asked only for materials that related to official duties and therefore belonged to New Jersey and not its two ex-employees.

What do you think?