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Key figure in NJ scandal surfaces for hearing

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AAA Mar. 12, 2014 2:24 AM ET
Key figure in NJ scandal surfaces for hearing

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, center, sits with her attorney Michael Critchley, left, and defense team member attorney Edmund DeNoia, right, during a hearing Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Attorneys for Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien were in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey legislators investigating the political payback scandal ensnaring Christie’s administration. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Chris Pedota, Pool)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, center, sits with her attorney Michael Critchley, left, and defense team member attorney Edmund DeNoia, right, during a hearing Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Attorneys for Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien were in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey legislators investigating the political payback scandal ensnaring Christie’s administration. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Chris Pedota, Pool)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, right, talks with her attorney Michael Critchley, center, as former Christie campaign director William Stepien’s attorney Kevin Marino, left, looks on during a hearing Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Attorneys for Kelly and Stepien were in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey legislators investigating the political payback scandal ensnaring Christie’s administration. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Chris Pedota, Pool)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, right, talks with her attorney Michael Critchley, left, as they arrive in court for a hearing Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Attorneys for Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien were in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jerse(AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Chris Pedota, Pool)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, second from left, listens as her attorney Michael Critchley, right, addresses the court, as defense team member attorney Edmund DeNoia, second from right, and former Christie campaign director William Stepien’s attorney Kevin Marino, left, look on during a hearing Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Attorneys for Kelly and Stepien were in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey legislators investigating the political payback scandal ensnaring Christie’s administration. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Chris Pedota, Pool)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, second from left, listens as her attorney Michael Critchley, right, addresses the court, as defense team member attorney Edmund DeNoia, second from right, and former Christie campaign director William Stepien’s attorney Kevin Marino, left, look on during a hearing Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Trenton, N.J. Attorneys for Kelly and Stepien were in court to try to persuade a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to New Jersey legislators investigating the political payback scandal ensnaring Christie’s administration. (AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Chris Pedota, Pool)

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A key figure in a political payback investigation involving Gov. Chris Christie’s administration voluntarily came to court to watch lawyers argue over whether her subpoena from a legislative investigatory panel should be quashed.

A lawyer said Bridget Kelly, the former Christie aide at the center of a plot to block traffic near the George Washington Bridge, wanted to show she’s not hiding from the scandal.

“She’s not someone who’s running away and living the life of a hermit,” lawyer Michael Critchley said outside the Mercer County courthouse after the nearly three-hour proceeding.

Kelly, who had not appeared in public since Christie fired her in early January, was rushed by reporters and camera crews as she arrived and left the courthouse. She did not comment. The jobless and divorced mother of four appeared near tears as Critchley described how her life had been upended by the case.

Bill Stepien, the other ex-Christie loyalist fighting a subpoena, was not in court.

Lawyers for Kelly and Stepien said their clients risk self-incrimination if they comply with the subpoenas for documents related to the tie-ups.

The lawyers partially based their Fifth Amendment claims on a parallel criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is seeking to uncover whether federal laws were broken. The legislative panel, which lacks authority to prosecute, wants to find out how high up Christie’s chain of command the lane-closing scheme went and why it was hatched.

A lawyer for the legislative panel investigating the plot countered that the law does not entitle them to the blanket protection they seek. Rather, any documents deemed potentially incriminating by Kelly and Stepien should be argued on a case-by-case basis, the lawyer said.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson isn’t expected to rule before the end of the month.

She also raised the prospect of the committee granting immunity to Kelly and Stepien in exchange for the documents.

Legislative lawyer Reid Schar said he was uncertain whether the legislative panel had the authority to grant immunity, while Critchley claimed the panel chose not to exercise that option because it would interfere with the U.S. attorney’s investigation.

Christie, whose viability as a 2016 Republican presidential candidate has been called into question since the scandal erupted, has said he knew nothing of the plot’s planning or execution. He said in December that no one on his staff was

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