N.J. judge again finds probable cause in Christie bridge case complaint

Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey deputy director Bill Baroni (left),Gov. Christie and David Wildstein, another former Port Authority official, at a 9/11 commemorative event on Sept. 11, 2013. Wildstein pleaded guilty in the lane-closure scheme in 2015, while Baroni was convicted by a federal grand jury in November.

A New Jersey municipal court judge has again ruled that probable cause exists that Gov. Christie engaged in official misconduct in his handling of the September 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

Roy McGeady, presiding judge of the municipal courts in Bergen County, ruled Thursday that a citizen’s complaint against Christie could proceed. The next step, however, is unclear. McGeady’s ruling sent the case back to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, according to a court spokesman. That office has said it did not intend to pursue charges.

The complaint, brought by retired Teaneck firefighter Bill Brennan, says Christie “knowingly refrained from ordering that his subordinates take all necessary action” to reopen lanes to the bridge that were closed in an act of political retribution. Two of the Republican governor’s former allies were convicted in the lane-closure scheme in November. Christie was not charged.

In court Thursday, McGeady said there was "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.”

The judge set a March 10 appearance date, but a court clerk directed a reporter to speak with the Prosecutor’s Office as to how it would proceed. A spokeswoman did not return a message Thursday.

Thursday’s hearing followed a ruling last month by a Superior Court judge, who reversed a previous probable cause finding by McGeady. The judge, Bonnie Mizdol, said Christie had been denied his constitutional right to counsel at the October preliminary hearing that resulted in the probable-cause finding.

Neither Christie nor an attorney for him appeared in court Thursday.

Christie spokesman Brian Murray did not respond to questions beyond a statement Thursday that McGeady “has once again violated the governor’s constitutional rights and intentionally ignored” the Superior Court ruling.

“The judge is violating the law, pure and simple. … This is a complete nonevent,” Murray said. He said the Prosecutor’s Office had already evaluated “this concocted claim.”

In a letter last month released by Christie’s office, John Higgins, first assistant prosecutor for the county, said the office had conducted “a thorough review” of the federal court transcripts from the bridge trial last fall and found the official-misconduct charge against Christie “cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Brennan has asked a Bergen County Superior Court judge to appoint a special prosecutor. While the judge previously denied his request, Brennan contends Higgins’ letter bolsters his argument, saying it was a “prop” for Christie’s office.

Brennan, who has launched a campaign website for a 2017 gubernatorial run, said Thursday that citizens serving on grand juries had the right to investigate the matter.

“I ask any grand juror to summon me and help with this investigation,” he said.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.