Monday, November 20, 2017

Judge nixes special prosecutor in Christie bridge complaint


Friday, March 17, 2017
by DAVID PORTER/Associated Press

For the third time, a judge in New Jersey has ruled that a special prosecutor won't be appointed to oversee a criminal complaint against Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal, a decision that could signal the end of a nearly six-month legal odyssey.

The official misconduct complaint was filed last fall by former firefighter William Brennan, who also has declared his candidacy for governor as a Democrat in this year's election. Brennan alleges Christie failed to act to stop a purported political retaliation plot against a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse him.

Three ex-Christie allies have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the 2013 lane closures that caused gridlock for four days.

The decision Friday by State Superior Court Judge Bonnie Mizdol comes after the Bergen County prosecutor's office issued a statement two weeks ago saying it wouldn't pursue the complaint because it believed the charge couldn't be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The office issued a similar statement in January.

Mizdol wrote that Brennan's current appeal "is nothing more than a disguised request for reconsideration of an issue that has been presented thrice before this court. Mere dissatisfaction with a court's decision is insufficient."

Mizdol and a municipal court judge had previously denied Brennan's request for a special prosecutor, ruling that he lacked standing to ask for one. Mizdol also declined Brennan's request to refer the matter directly to a grand jury.

Brennan argued that although the state attorney general and Bergen County prosecutor, both appointed by Christie, removed themselves from the case, their subordinates also would have a conflict of interest.

He vowed in an email that he would appeal and added, "Nowhere in her decision does she state that there is no conflict, that says far more than the nonsense she did write about."

Through a spokesman, Christie has called the complaint "factually and legally baseless."

Former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee, were convicted in November and are scheduled to be sentenced this month. A judge rejected their appeals for a new trial.

Another former Port Authority official, David Wildstein, a high school classmate of Christie's, pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Brennan based his complaint on testimony during the trial of Kelly and Baroni. He claimed their accounts, along with Wildstein's, showed 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.

The municipal court judge who ruled there was probable cause for Brennan's complaint to go forward quoted Kelly's trial testimony that she told the governor about the traffic study and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's complaints that he was being targeted.

He also quoted Wildstein, who testified Christie laughed and made a joke about the traffic jams and Sokolich's calls not being returned when told about them at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony, while the lane closures were in progress.

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