Now, as he had hoped and predicted, it appears that at least two leading law firms have taken up the challenge and filed massive class action law suits.
The first, GALICKI v. NEW JERSEY, filed in federal court on January 9th, named as defendants Christie himself, his former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, New Jersey, the Port Authority, and two former Port Authority employees, both Christie appointees, who resigned last month over the scandal: Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and Director of Interstate Capital Projects David Wildstein. Nine named plaintiffs, commuters, claim they suffered medical as well as other problems - e.g., lost wages - as a result of the massive traffic jams.
Their class action law suit alleged violation of the due process and privileges and immunities clauses of the Constitution, arguing they were deprived of life, liberty and property and their right of free ingress into and egress out of other states. They also seek damages for tort claims sounding in negligent hiring and retention against Christie, the state and the Port Authority. They are trying to represent tens of thousands of individuals and business owners who suffered economic, physical or psychological injury as a result of what is now being called Bridgegate.
The second class action law suit, GW CAR SERVICE v. NEW JERSEY, was filed in state court, apparently in the hopes of avoiding problems of state sovereign immunity which could occur in a federal action. The complaint alleges federal and state civil rights claims for alleged constitutional violations, and also includes claims for civil racketeering and conspiracy.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages for the "intentional, indifferent, conspiratorial, politically motivated, negligence and reckless and corrupt actions and misconduct that led to the closure of multiple lanes of traffic and toll booths to the George Washington Bridge." The named defendants include Christie aides Bill Stepien and Michael Drewniak. In addition to the plaintiffs already named, their attorneys plan subpoena E-ZPass records to identify drivers who may have been affected who might then be added.
"In addition to sending a very clear message that a two-hour apology from the Governor is woefully inadequate when the government deliberately and needlessly causes massive disruption in the lives of tens of thousands of people for nothing more than petty political revenge, these civil legal actions - and many more likely to come - may be the best way to be sure that the whole truth behind the gross abuse of power emerges, since the U.S. attorney's authority is limited to federal crimes, and legislative investigations are notoriously ineffective and often political," says Banzhaf, who has been called an "Entrepreneur of Litigation, [and] a Trial Lawyer's Trial Lawyer" as well as the "Dean of Public Interest Lawyers."
"Some pundits has opined that the suits may be frivolous, but that's exactly who they said when I first proposed that smokers, nonsmokers, and then states sue cigarette companies, but the defendants ultimately paid out over a quarter of a trillion dollars," says Banzhaf, whom the media has called "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars," and "The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry."
"So-called experts laughed when I helped my law students sue McDonald's for failing to reveal that their french fries contained minute amounts of beef fat, but the fast food giant eventually had to pay over $12 million to make the suit go away. Similarly, when we helped sue Spiro T. Agnew to force him to disgorge the money he received in bribes, legal scholars rolled their eyes, but in the end the court forced him to return all the money with interest. Many of my legal colleagues have also been able to come up with novel legal theories to successfully attack a wide variety of wrongful but unusual conduct - that's what's happening here," argues Banzhaf.
Civil tort actions are designed to permit citizens to right wrongs and make wrongdoers pay, especially when prosecutors can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that crimes have been committed, or offer the injured just compensation, and torts actions can be tailored to cover even the most unusual fact patterns, he says.
Banzhaf suggests that private law suits like this are most likely to insure that all of the facts come out, and that any possible involvement by Christie or others will be exposed. "Aggressive private attorneys, who are paid only if their clients win, are much more likely to relentlessly uncover the entire truth than governmental or politically motivated investigations,"
Monetary damages could also be enormous. "Every member of a jury could well imagine himself helplessly stuck in such a massive and totally unnecessary traffic jam, maybe missing an important appointment, or possibly not being able to receive medical treatment in case of emergency," says Banzhaf, and thus could easily be persuaded to award high damages to deter any such conduct in the future.
In many cases which outrage jurors, they are permitted to award damages far beyond those actually suffered or proven in order to discourage such conduct in the future. These are called "punitive damages,' says Banzhaf, and help make "Suing the Bastards" even more effective, he says.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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Washington, DC 20052, USA
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