Christie lawyering up?

posted at 9:21 am on January 16, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

This story initially started swamping my Twitter timeline, at least until the Oscar nominations got announced and everyone debated why Tom Hanks got overlooked in Captain Phillips, which got a nomination for Best Film. (As I predicted, Twin Cities resident Barkhad Abdi got a supporting actor nomination for the film.) Before that, though, the announcement that Chris Christie brought in outside counsel to deal with the US Attorney probe into Bridgegate got the buzz:

The administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has hired outside legal counsel to help it deal with a U.S. attorney inquiry into its role in crafting a politically motivated traffic jam, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Christie’s office is bringing in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Leading the team will be former assistant U.S. attorney Randy Mastro, who co-chairs the law firm’s litigation group.

This isn’t as big of a deal as it looks. When something out of the ordinary arises on a legal front, it’s not unusual for any organization, including governments, to bring in outside counsel. In-house counsel usually have a full plate with their regular workloads, and hiring more lawyers would be more costly in the long run than contracting the effort. Besides, in a situation where the issue is inside the organization, it’s better to get outside counsel who have no ties to the rest of the organization, and who will have more experience in dealing with the opposition on the legal issues in play.

At any rate, Christie isn’t the only one hiring legal gunslingers these days. Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager who got cut loose this week from the Christie bandwagon, hired some pretty high-powered attorneys, too:

Bill Stepien, Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager and senior aide who was jettisoned in the wake of a controversy concerning the George Washington Bridge, has obtained a lawyer to represent him in the ongoing investigation.

Kevin Marino, of Marino, Tortorella & Boyle in Chatham, N.J., will be representing Mr. Stepien, according to Leon Sokol, the attorney for the Assembly transportation committee that has led the investigation into lane closures ordered by Mr. Christie’s allies. …

His boutique firm has handled a number of high-profile financial cases, such as the espionage case against former Goldman Sachs Vice President Sergey Aleynikov for charges that he sold trade secrets.

Christie’s political opponents brought in outside counsel for their probe into the administration, too. They hired the man who helped take down Illinois’ Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich:

New Jersey lawmakers investigating political tricks that emanated from Governor Chris Christie’s office hired as special counsel the lead prosecutor in the corruption trials of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Reid Schar was the lead prosecutor in both trials of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, ending with Blagojevich’s conviction on sweeping corruption charges and 14-year prison sentence. In perhaps the defining moment in his career as a prosecutor, Schar opened his cross examination of Blagojevich in the second trial in 2011 with a simple but tone-setting question: “Mr. Blagojevich, you are a convicted liar, correct?” Blagojevich had been convicted of a lone count of perjury in the first trial in 2010, but jurors deadlocked on other counts.

Other notches in Schar’s belt include former Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko and and Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was accused of aiding the radical Palestinian group Hamas and ultimately convicted of obstruction of justice. Near the end of his 12-year stint at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Schar served as an adviser to Patrick Fitzgerald, giving input on charging decisions, management and personnel, and a host of other issues.

Democrats hired the man who torpedoed Democrats in Illinois? No hard feelings, I guess, but it’s going to make Blagojevich’s claims to have been the victim of a political railroading a wee bit harder to sustain, no?


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