- Associated Press - Friday, December 30, 2016

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - For sheer drama laced with the kind of political chicanery New Jerseyans have come to expect from their public officials, it would be hard for anything to top 2016’s trial of two subordinates of Gov. Chris Christie in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal.

2017 could offer nearly as much intrigue, from a potential corruption trial of a sitting U.S. senator to a challenge to a 25-year-old federal law against legalized sports gambling.

Bridgegate was far from the only notable legal story in 2016. The year also included:

- A $1.5 million settlement for an ex-assistant county prosecutor who claimed he was fired in for political reasons related to a case involving a Christie donor.

- The conviction of a Florida woman for murdering her 5-year-old son in New Jersey in 1991.



- The dismissal, on legal grounds, of the 15-count conviction of former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi in the case stemming from the suicide of his then-roommate, Tyler Clementi, whom Ravi had secretly videotaped having an encounter with another man in 2010. Ravi, whose original sentence was 30 days, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted invasion of privacy and served no additional time.

- The appointment of a federal monitor to oversee Newark’s police department after a Department of Justice probe found rampant misconduct and unconstitutional policing.

- A fake university set up in Cranford by federal agents to snare more than 20 people on charges of operating an international student visa scam.

- The arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahimi in Linden on federal terror charges after bombs exploded in New York and at the New Jersey shore.

A look at what’s in store for 2017:

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US VS. ROBERT MENENDEZ

The three-term Democratic senator is fighting to dismiss a 2015 corruption indictment that charges him with accepting favors from a wealthy friend in exchange for political influence. Menendez claims his actions were part of his routine legislative duties and are protected by the Constitution; the Supreme Court is expected to decide in the next few months whether to hear the case. A trial could begin next fall.

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SPORTS GAMBLING

The Supreme Court also will decide whether to consider New Jersey’s challenge to an appeals court ruling barring the state from repealing its laws against sports betting. At issue is a 1992 federal law prohibiting sports betting in all but four states. New Jersey, along with several states that signed onto the brief, argues the Constitution bars Congress from dictating what laws a state can or can’t repeal. Christie has vowed to bring legal sports betting to the state.

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BRIDGEGATE, PART II

Convicted defendants Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly have appealed their convictions on multiple grounds, including that the judge allowed jurors to find them guilty even if they didn’t find the government proved they knowingly sought to punish a mayor who didn’t endorse Christie. Their sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 21.

Meanwhile, Christie, who wasn’t charged in the federal case, is facing a criminal complaint in state court filed by a former firefighter-turned-activist. A judge ruled the complaint can move forward, but a different judge denied a request for a special prosecutor. The parties are back in court early next month as Christie’s lawyers seek to have the complaint thrown out.

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CHAIRMAN’S FLIGHT

A secondary figure in the Bridgegate saga who wasn’t criminally charged - David Samson, former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - gets the spotlight all to himself Jan. 5 when he is sentenced in a bribery scheme.

The former New Jersey attorney general and longtime mentor to Christie admitted using his position to get United Airlines, the dominant carrier at Port Authority-operated Newark Liberty International Airport, to resurrect a money-losing weekend flight from Newark to South Carolina, near where he owned property.

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BAIL REFORM

Inarguably the most consequential criminal justice development in New Jersey will begin next month when bail reforms passed this year go into effect.

In essence, the previous system in which people charged with minor offenses would often languish in jail because they couldn’t afford bail is being replaced by a system in which courts will rate them to determine security risks and, in most cases, release them.

Supporters say the reforms will ease jail overcrowding, allow people to return to work and create a more fair system that previously has discriminated against the poor.

Critics say it will unfairly burden local governments by forcing them to add staffing to implement the changes, and could result in defendants skipping out on court dates.

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