Gov. Chris Christie (Photo: Carmen Natale/ALM)
A citizen’s complaint accusing Gov. Chris Christie of official misconduct in connection with the Bridgegate scandal appears to have run out of gas after motions to refer the case to a grand jury or appoint a special prosecutor were dismissed.
Bergen County Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol ruled Friday that the petitioner, former Teaneck firefighter Bill Brennan, failed to demonstrate that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office was biased in Christie’s favor when it dismissed the misconduct complaint.
Brennan claimed in the complaint that Christie knew about the George Washington Bridge lane closures while they wer underway but failed to take steps to end the politically motivated plan.
Brennan claimed the March 2 decision by John Higgins III, the first assistant Bergen County prosecutor, lacked impartiality. Higgins took on the case after Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, who was appointed by Christie, removed himself from the case. But Mizdol rejected Brennan’s claims and said Higgins’ assertions that he could not prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt was a valid reason to terminate the complaint.
“While the court remains forever mindful of the heightened concern for conflict when a governor is facing criminal prosecution by the very state he is tasked to govern, it rejects Brennan’s argument that the BCPO abused its prosecutorial discretion. This court is satisfied that BCPO has, to avoid an actual or perceived appearance of impropriety, designated a prosecutor not appointed by the defendant or his administration, who had unbridled discretion to present the charges to a grand jury, downgrade the charges to a lesser offense or dismiss the charges. There is nothing in the record to suggest BCPO arbitrarily dismissed the complaint in lieu of conducting a thorough investigation and soundly exercising its discretion to dismiss.”
Mizdol also rejected Brennan’s bid to refer the case to a grand jury, finding he lacks standing to make that request because it was not pleaded in his initial petition or his appeal. Mizdol added that, even if the relief were not procedurally precluded, it would be substantively denied.
Higgins’s March 2 termination of the complaint came after Roy McGeady, Bergen County’s presiding judge of municipal court, ruled that probable cause existed to support the complaint but denied Brennan’s bid for a special prosecutor. Brennan appealed the decision regarding the special prosecutor to Mizdol.
Brennan’s lawyer, Donald Burke of Brick, said he and his client are “continuing to review the court’s decision and considering our options.”
Christie’s lawyer in the case, Craig Carpenito of Alston & Bird in New York, did not return a call about the ruling. Representatives for Christie and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office also did not return calls.