Christie Faces New Probable-Cause Hearing on Bridgegate

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HACKENSACK, N.J. (CN) – Shaking up the fight to get New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie indicted over a traffic jam created in his name, a judge called Thursday for a new municipal court hearing.

Christie had sought to have the case dismissed outright but Bergen County Judge Bonnie Mizdol ruled only to remand the case to the municipal level.

The ruling comes just a day after state prosecutors complained about procedural violations at an October probable-cause hearing, where Christie’s attorneys were not permitted to address the court.

Retired firefighter Bill Brennan brought the underlying action as a citizen’s complaint, trying to force a criminal trial of Christie in connection to Bridgegate, the politically motivated traffic shutdown on the George Washington Bridge that caused four days of gridlock in September 2013.

Christie has always denied responsibility for or pre-existing knowledge of the plot, but three of his former allies – David Wildstein, Bill Baroni Jr. and Bridget Ann Kelly – face prison time for conspiracy.

At Baroni and Kelly’s trial last year, Wildstein testified that Christie knew of the plot and seemed pleased. Prosecutors also introduced a photograph of Christie in a jolly huddle with Wildstein and Baroni on what had been Day 3 of the lane closures.

Brennan says the evidence shows that “Christie knowingly refrained from” reopening the lanes.

Christie’s attorney, Craig Carpenito, argued at Wednesday’s hearing that Brennan’s criminal complaint was “fatally flawed” and that he “lacks personal knowledge of the facts.”

Carpenito has not returned a request for comment left with his firm, Alston & Bird.

Brennan’s claims hinge on testimony given at Baroni and Kelly’s trial by Wildstein, the federal government’s star witness. Though the prosecutors credited Wildstein’s testimony, Carpenito argued that the testimony of this “convicted felon” cannot be trusted.

In addition to fighting Wildstein’s testimony from the Bridgegate trial as inadmissible, Carpenito told the court that none of the three co-conspirators testified about discussing the plot with the governor before it happened.

Kelly actually testified that she told Christie on Aug. 12 about plans for the lane shutdown, which she claimed to believe was part of a traffic study.

“I was scared if I didn’t tell him what would happen … I would be blamed for something I didn’t do,” Kelly had said.

It was because Christie gave the green light, Kelly said, that she emailed Wildstein that same day with the infamous message: “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Brennan described the ruling in a Twitter post Thursday as Christie’s “latest loss.” The firefighter had blasted the Wednesday proceedings outside the courthouse.

“No reasonable person believes that Wildstein, Kelly and Baroni went through all this trouble to retaliate against [Fort Lee Mayor] Mark Sokolich … and then didn’t tell [Christie] what was going on,” he said.

The firefighter also accused New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino of “signing checks for the defense attorney.”

“The system is being bent to the will of the governor,” Brennan added.

Developing story…