A citizen’s complaint of official misconduct by Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal can move forward, a judge ruled Thursday, raising the possibility that the governor could face indictment.
The complaint, filed by retired Teaneck firefighter William Brennan, alleges Christie “knowingly refrained from ordering that his subordinates take all necessary action to re-open local access lanes” from Fort Lee that had been “closed with the purpose to injure Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich” for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid. The complaint claims residents were “deprived the benefit and enjoyment of their community.”
The complaint comes amid the trial of two former Christie appointees who are accused of orchestrating the lane closures in September 2013 as political retribution against Sokolich, a Democrat. Christie wasn’t charged and has denied any involvement in the scheme or its cover-up. The government’s star witness, David Wildstein, testified that several members in the governor’s inner circle knew about the plot beforehand or soon after and that Christie himself was told about the traffic jams on the third day of the four-day lane closures.
Christie spokesman Brian Murray said that the ruling is being appealed and that it comes from a “serial complainant and political activist with a history of abusing the system.”
“The simple fact is the governor had no knowledge of the lane realignments either before they happened or while they were happening,” Murray said in a statement.
The governor’s misconduct case goes to the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, which will decide whether it will lead to an indictment. Christie appointed the prosecutor.
Spectators in the courtroom who were mostly there for minor criminal violations applauded after the judge’s ruling, NJ.com reported.
Official misconduct is considered a second-degree offense in New Jersey and carries a possible sentence of five to 10 years.
An initial court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 24.
Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, are currently on trial in the lane closures case.
Baroni and Kelly face charges including conspiracy, fraud and deprivation of civil rights. The most serious charge, wire fraud conspiracy, carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
They contend the scheme was conceived and executed by Wildstein, a career political operative and blogger their attorneys have characterized as Christie’s hatchet man at the Port Authority, a powerful bi-state agency that runs bridges, tunnels, ports, airports and the World Trade Center.