Judge or­ders new hear­ing in com­plaint against Christie

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By David Porter

NE­WARK, N.J. » A New Jersey judge on Thurs­day or­dered a new hear­ing on a crim­i­nal mis­con­duct com­plaint against Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie in the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge lane-clos­ing scan­dal, rul­ing that a lower court wrongly found prob­a­ble cause for the case to pro­ceed.

State Su­pe­rior Court Judge Bon­nie Miz­dol re­versed the mu­nic­i­pal court find­ing of prob­a­ble cause and sent the case back to the lower court for a new hear­ing on the is­sue. In her rul­ing, Miz­dol also re­fused a re­quest from Christie’s at­tor­neys to dis­miss the cit­i­zen’s com­plaint en­tirely.

The com­plaint, filed by for­mer Tea­neck fire­fighter Wil­liam Bren­nan, ac­cuses Christie of fail­ing to act to re­open the lanes that were or­dered closed in an al­leged po­lit­i­cal re­venge plot to pun­ish a mayor who didn’t en­dorse Christie in 2013.

Two of Christie’s for­mer aides were con­victed in fed­eral court in Novem­ber. He has de­nied wrong­do­ing and was never charged in the case.

Miz­dol agreed with ar­gu­ments from Christie’s at­tor­neys that the lower court’s Oc­to­ber find­ing of prob­a­ble cause was flawed be­cause they weren’t al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate or cross-ex­am­ine Bren­nan. She found that over­sight “was a vi­o­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards.”

But in turn­ing down the re­quest for dis­missal, she re­jected their ar­gu­ments that the ev­i­dence Bren­nan of­fered — tes­ti­mony from the re­cent fed­eral trial — wasn’t suf­fi­cient for a prob­a­ble cause find­ing.

Christie’s of­fice, and the governor’s at­tor­ney, Craig Carpen­ito, didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on the rul­ing Thurs­day.

If Bren­nan’s com­plaint is al­lowed to go for­ward, pros­e­cu­tors would have to col­lect ev­i­dence and present it to a grand jury, which would have to hand up an in­dict­ment be­fore Christie could face a crim­i­nal trial. Of­fi­cial mis­con­duct is pun­ish­able by a po­ten­tial prison term of five to 10 years upon con­vic­tion.

The bridge scan­dal dogged Christie through his failed cam­paign for the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, and was con­sid­ered a fac­tor in his not be­ing cho­sen as run­ning mate for Don­ald Trump last year.

In an email Thurs­day, Bren­nan said he would now present ad­di­tional tes­ti­mony from the fed­eral trial from for­mer Christie aide Brid­get Kelly, whose tes­ti­mony came af­ter Bren­nan filed his mis­con­duct claim.

Kelly, Christie’s for­mer deputy chief of staff, said that dur­ing the four days of lane clo­sures in Septem­ber 2013, she told Christie about Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s con­cerns that the traf­fic jams were some form of po­lit­i­cal pay­back.

Christie’s re­sponse was to “let Wild­stein han­dle it,” re­fer­ring to David Wild­stein, the for­mer Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jersey of­fi­cial who pleaded guilty in the scan­dal.

“Send­ing Wild­stein was like hav­ing the fire depart­ment dis­patch an ar­son­ist when a fire is re­ported,” Bren­nan wrote.

Wild­stein also tes­ti­fied that he and Bill Ba­roni, one of Christie’s top ap­pointees to the Port Au­thor­ity, told Christie about the traf­fic jams and the governor laughed and made a sar­cas­tic com­ment.

Christie has pub­licly de­nied know­ing about the scheme un­til months later.

Kelly and Ba­roni were con­victed of wire fraud, civil rights of­fenses and mis­ap­ply­ing Port Au­thor­ity prop­erty.

Carpen­ito ar­gued that Wild­stein’s tes­ti­mony in the fed­eral trial didn’t show Christie knew about the mo­tive be­hind the clos­ing of ac­cess lanes to the bridge in Septem­ber 2013.

Miz­dol pre­vi­ously re­jected Bren­nan’s mo­tion to have a spe­cial prose­cu­tor ap­pointed to the case, rul­ing that he didn’t have the au­thor­ity to make that re­quest.

MEL EVANS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie holds hands with his daugh­ter Sarah Christie as wife Mary Pat Christie fol­lows while they leave the Assem­bly cham­ber of the State­house af­ter he de­liv­ered his State Of The State ad­dress on Tues­day in Tren­ton, N.J.

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