Judge: Bridge case com­plaint against Christie can pro­ceed

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By David Porter

HACKENSACK, N.J. >> A New Jersey judge ruled for the sec­ond time that a crim­i­nal com­plaint against Gov. Chris Christie can go for­ward, say­ing Thurs­day ev­i­dence es­tab­lishes the Repub­li­can had rea­son to be­lieve lane clos­ings at the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge in 2013 were more than just a rou­tine traf­fic study and failed to take ac­tion to stop it.

Ap­plause erupted in Mu­nic­i­pal Court Judge Roy McGeady’s court­room when he said there was prob­a­ble cause to charge Christie with of­fi­cial mis­con­duct for fail­ing to act to stop the lane clo­sures and sub­se­quent grid­lock, part of an al­leged po­lit­i­cal ret­ri­bu­tion scheme against a Demo­cratic mayor who didn’t en­dorse Christie.

There is “prob­a­ble cause to be­lieve the gov­er­nor knew this was more than just an or­di­nary and pro­duc­tive traf­fic study and the con­se­quences were up­set­ting to the mayor of Fort Lee,” McGeady said. The judge set a March 10 date for Christie to an­swer the crim­i­nal sum­mons, though it’s un­clear if he will have to ap­pear in per­son.

Christie’s of­fice called McGeady’s rul­ing “a com­plete non-event” and said that he ig­nored a pre­vi­ous rul­ing that find­ing prob­a­ble cause was flawed. Nei­ther Christie nor his at­tor­ney at­tended the sec­ond prob­a­ble cause hear­ing two weeks ago or Thurs­day’s hear­ing.

The mis­con­duct com­plaint was filed last fall by Wil­liam Bren­nan, a re­tired fire­fighter who has mounted a cam­paign for gov­er­nor. Last fall, McGeady is­sued a find­ing of prob­a­ble cause, but a higher court sent the case back to him after rul­ing Christie should have been rep­re­sented at the ini­tial hear­ing and Bren­nan should have been sub­ject to cross-ex­am­i­na­tion. For Christie to go on trial, the case would have to be pre­sented to a grand jury, which would have to hand up an in­dict­ment.

Thurs­day’s de­vel­op­ment comes as Christie, whose ap­proval rat­ings have sunk below 20 per­cent in re­cent months, has gained trac­tion with the pas­sage of anti-opi­oid leg­is­la­tion, a cause he has cham­pi­oned. This week, he met with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to dis­cuss the opi­oid cri­sis.

It is un­clear how quickly — or even whether—the case will move for­ward. Last month, the Ber­gen County prose­cu­tor’s of­fice, which would pros­e­cute the case, wrote in a let­ter that it wouldn’t pur­sue charges be­cause it didn’t feel the ev­i­dence could prove of­fi­cial mis­con­duct beyond a rea­son­able doubt.

Bren­nan has con­tended that demon­strates bias in­her­ent in the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Christie and the prose­cu­tor’s of­fice, and he re­newed his call Thurs­day for a spe­cial prose­cu­tor to be named.

“This judge has once again vi­o­lated the Gov­er­nor’s con­sti­tu­tional rights and in­ten­tion­ally ig­nored the ear­lier rul­ing by As­sign­ment Judge Miz­dol,” Christie spokesman Brian Mur­ray said in a state­ment. “The judge is vi­o­lat­ing the law, pure and sim­ple. This con­cocted claim was in­ves­ti­gated for three months by the Ber­gen County Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice, which sum­mar­ily dis­missed it, after con­clud­ing that the very same ev­i­dence re­lied upon again by this judge was ut­ter non­sense.”

Two for­mer Christie aides were con­victed of fed­eral charges in Novem­ber. Bren­nan based his com­plaint on tes­ti­mony dur­ing that trial, which he said shows Christie lied about when he knew about the al­leged plot or its mo­tives.

Christie didn’t tes­tify at the fed­eral trial and has de­nied prior knowl­edge of the plot.

McGeady quoted di­rectly from the trial tes­ti­mony of for­mer Christie deputy chief of staff Brid­get Kelly, who tes­ti­fied she told the gov­er­nor about the traf­fic study and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s com­plaints that he was be­ing tar­geted.

EVAN VUCCI — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE

A New Jersey judge ruled Thurs­day that a crim­i­nal com­plaint against Gov. Chris Christie, shown with his wife Mary Pat, can go for­ward.

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