By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New Jersey judge has ruled for the second time that a citizen’s criminal complaint against Governor Chris Christie over the “Bridgegate” scandal can move forward.
At a hearing on Thursday, Judge Roy McGeady, who oversees municipal courts in Bergen County, found probable cause for the official misconduct complaint filed by activist Bill Brennan, a retired firefighter who is running for governor this year.
Brennan, a Democrat, has accused Christie, a Republican, of knowing about a plot to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 intended to punish a local mayor for failing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
Despite McGeady’s ruling, however, it was not clear how the case would proceed.
Typically, a citizen’s complaint backed by a probable cause finding is referred to county prosecutors, who decide whether enough evidence exists to support charges. The Bergen County prosecutor’s office has already said it does not intend to pursue a case against Christie.
In January, a higher-court judge threw out McGeady’s initial finding of probable cause from last year because he failed to give Christie’s lawyer an opportunity to participate in the hearing. She ordered a new hearing, which eventually led to McGeady’s decision on Thursday.
“The judge is violating the law, pure and simple,” said Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie’s office. “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.”
McGeady set March 10 as the date for Christie to answer a criminal summons, though it seems unlikely the governor will appear in court.
Two former Christie allies were convicted last year of orchestrating the plot, and U.S. prosecutors introduced evidence at trial suggesting the governor was at least aware of the scheme. Christie, who has not been charged by prosecutors, has denied any knowledge of the closures at the time.
Legal experts have said the governor is unlikely to face prosecution.
But the scandal has derailed what was once seen as a promising political career. Christie, who has historically low approval ratings, lost his presidential bid and was then passed over by President Donald Trump for an administration post.
Christie is barred from running for re-election due to term limits.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)