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New Jersey governor Chris Christie faces a lawsuit over massive traffic jams created when his staff orchestrated bottlenecks on a major bridge to seek political revenge, a lawyer said Friday.
Christie, a larger-than-life Republican seen as a frontrunner for his party's 2016 presidential nomination, has said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by the alleged dirty tricks, unveiled in news reports this week.
He has apologized repeatedly and said he was unaware of his office's connection to the shutting down in September of local access lanes to the heavily-traveled George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey to New York.
He moved quickly to sack his deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, who in August had worked to block the lanes with a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, which manages the region's transport.
The traffic plan was apparently conceived as an act of retribution against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie's bid for re-election last year.
Christie, along with Kelly and two Port Authority officials, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, are facing a class action suit filed by six commuters, but which could concern "thousands of persons located throughout the State of New Jersey."
In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Jersey, the commuters, represented by lawyer Rosemarie Arnold, ask for a jury trial and an unspecified amount of damages and compensation for the loss of time and wages they suffered while stuck in traffic.
Kelly and the two port authority officials had each exchanged email and text messages about closing the access lanes to the bridge.
The complaint denounces the "official misconduct" of the defendants by "conspiring to, orchestrating, and/or implementing their political agenda ... to close lanes to the George Washington Bridge" in political revenge.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to Wildstein, a high school acquaintance of Christie, on August 13, referring to the town whose mayor refused to endorse Christie.
"Got it," Wildstein replied.
The Fort Lee mayor was not advised the lanes would be closed for what was said to be a traffic study. The resulting chaos ensnared millions of commuters as well as some emergency responders.
On September 10, Wildstein texted Kelly that he was "smiling" about the incident but "I feel badly about the kids," referring to students stuck for hours on buses.
"They are the children of Buono voters," Kelly texted back, referring to Christie's Democratic rival in the governor's race, Barbara Buono.
Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority in December.