Legal Ethics

Was Gibson Dunn's report on NJ bridge scandal sexist? Personal details spur questions

Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, doesn’t fare well in a report on the New Jersey bridge scandal prepared by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Were personal details in the report fair game?

The report largely blames Kelly and Port Authority official David Wildstein for the lane closings that caused traffic tie-ups on the George Washington Bridge. The report also quotes from Kelly’s controversial email to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

But the report goes further, describing Kelly as emotional after a breakup and “habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the governor,” the New York Times noted last week. According to the Times, the report portrays Kelly as “as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability.” The report concludes that events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her motivations and state of mind.

Now the American Lawyer’s Careerist and a columnist for the Bergen County Record are asking whether those observations in the Gibson Dunn report were appropriate. And Kelly’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, is also raising the issue, saying the report tries to undermine his client with “venomous, gratuitous, and inappropriate sexist remarks,” the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

In an interview with the Bergen County Record, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers raised ethics issues. He points to New Jersey ethics rules that say lawyers should not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass.

The Careerist says her “feminist antennae perked up” when she read the Times account. “I mean, what more could you ask for than a stereotypical portrait of an unhinged, scorned woman?”

Gibson Dunn partner Randy Mastro, principal author of the report, denied accusations of sexism in phone and email conversations with the Careerist. “Our report attributed equal blame to both Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein,” he says. “And it described the personal conduct and reactions of both of them because it was relevant to consciousness of guilt and culpability.” He also notes that the report “used the word ‘emotional’ to describe the governor’s conduct no less than six times.”

The Careerist acknowledges the Christie references, but says they help soften the governor’s gruff image. “Christie getting all choked up fighting for truth is wholly different than Kelly melting into a hysterical, lying mess,” the Careerist says. After reading the report for herself, the Careerist concludes it “left me with an uncomfortable sense that Kelly had been cast as an unstable woman.”

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