Judge to rule on special prosecutor request in Christie case
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HACKENSACK, N.J. — A special prosecutor should be appointed in a criminal misconduct complaint against Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal to ensure Christie is held "to the same standards as everyone else," the man who filed the complaint told a judge Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Bonnie Mizdol heard arguments from former Teaneck firefighter and Wayne resident William Brennan, who filed the complaint alleging Christie failed to order subordinates to reopen the bridge access lanes from Fort Lee in September 2013.
A different judge ruled in October that there was probable cause to let the complaint go forward. Mizdol said she would issue a written ruling by the end of the week.
Christie denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged in what prosecutors say was a political payback scheme to create traffic jams at the bridge, which connects Fort Lee with New York and is one of the busiest bridges in the world. Two former Christie allies were recently convicted in the case, and a third earlier pleaded guilty and testified against them.
They testified during a federal trial in September and October that Christie was told about the lane closures — if not necessarily the motive behind them — ahead of time and while they were ongoing.
Brennan, representing himself, argued Wednesday that a special prosecutor is needed to remove the appearance of a conflict of interest. Attorney General Chris Porrino and Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, both appointed by Christie, have recused themselves from the case, but Brennan argued that their subordinates also should be recused.
"The conflict is real and it's palpable. They're all on the same side, figuratively, literally and visually," he said as he pointed to lawyers representing the prosecutor's office, attorney general's office and Christie sitting at a table.
Attorney Craig Carpenito, representing Christie, accused Brennan of grandstanding and "seeking to prolong his 15 minutes in the public eye." The attorney general's office has argued that Brennan, as a citizen making a complaint, doesn't have the standing to call for a special prosecutor and that there is no legislative mechanism to appoint one. Carpenito said Brennan's claims that assistant county prosecutors couldn't be fair "insults the process."
Mizdol said while she is "very mindful" of the heightened concern for conflict of interest in the case, she is bound to uphold the applicable statutes and the state constitution.
Brennan contended the case is novel because it involves a sitting governor as a defendant and has no guiding legal precedent.
He told Mizdol "the eyes of the world are on this courtroom" and urged her to grant his motion so that "then, and only then, will the citizens believe the governor is being held to the same standards as everyone else."