A New Jersey judge on Thursday ordered a new hearing on a citizen’s criminal complaint against Governor Chris Christie over the “Bridgegate” scandal but declined to dismiss the case entirely.
Judge Bonnie Mizdol, the top judge in Bergen County, said a lower court judge erroneously denied Christie’s lawyer an opportunity to make arguments and cross-examine witnesses at a prior hearing in October.
The complaint was filed in September by Bill Brennan, a retired firefighter and activist who recently announced he would run for governor this year.
Brennan accused Christie of knowing about a plot to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 in order to punish a local mayor for failing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
Two former Christie allies were convicted last year of orchestrating the plot, and U.S. prosecutors introduced evidence at trial suggesting the governor was at least aware of the scheme. Christie, who has not been charged by prosecutors, has steadfastly denied that he knew about the closures at the time they occurred.
Roy McGeady, a municipal judge in Fort Lee, where Brennan’s complaint was filed, found probable cause to allow the case to proceed after a hearing at which Brennan testified. Christie’s lawyer was not permitted to take part in that hearing, McGeady said, because probable cause had not yet been established.
That, Mizdol said on Thursday, was wrong under the law.
“Defendant was improperly denied counsel at a critical stage,” she wrote.
But Mizdol rejected Christie’s request to have the complaint thrown out, saying that McGeady should hold another probable cause hearing to determine whether the case should once again be referred to prosecutors for their review.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Dan Grebler)