HACKENSACK, N.J. – A political activist’s attempt to bring a criminal complaint against Gov. Christie in connection with Bridgegate has no merit and won’t be pursued by authorities in Bergen County, the prosecutor’s office announced Friday.
A local judge should never have found probable cause to proceed in the first place, a decision prepared by First Assistant Prosecutor John Higgins III says.
William J. Brennan filed a complaint in Fort Lee Municipal Court late last September accusing Christie of official misconduct.
Specifically, Brennan charged that Christie “refrained from ordering that his subordinates take all necessary action to reopen local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge."
A local judge moved the case to Central Municipal Court in Hackensack, where Judge Roy F. McGeady conducted a probable-cause hearing in October during which Brennan was the only witness.
McGeady ruled that an official misconduct complaint could be pursued.
Soon after, Brennan requested that a special prosecutor be appointed, which a Law Division judge rejected. Brennan sought reconsideration – and was again denied.
In December, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office joined Christie in arguing that the governor was entitled to a lawyer at the probable cause hearing before McGeady.
Christie also asked the court to dismiss the entire complaint.
Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol, sitting in Hackensack, denied a dismissal. However, she reversed the probable cause ruling and sent the case back to Central Municipal Court.
McGeady is scheduled to conduct the hearing on Feb. 2.
Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal – a former Assistant U.S. Attorney when Christie was New Jersey's top federal prosecutor – recused himself from the matter. Christie nominated Grewal for Bergen County prosecutor last year.
It was up to Higgins, the prosecutor's first assistant, to determine whether to pursue an official misconduct case against Christie based on Brennan’s complaint.
In his response, Higgins noted that citizen complaints ordinarily “are brought for minor crimes and involve matters where complainants have personal knowledge of the offense.”
He also cited concerns by the state Supreme Court that “private prosecutions pose the risk that the complainant will use the municipal court proceeding to harass the defendant or to obtain an advantage in a related civil action.”
For instance, it could allow "political candidates, on the eve of an election, [to] charge their political opponents with fraud or some other nefarious activity.”
It’s not a private citizen’s responsibility to prosecute serious crimes but, rather, of prosecutors, Higgins wrote.
It “has been the role of the victim or concerned citizen to report knowledge of criminal activities to the proper law enforcement authorities,” he added.
Higgins emphasized that “a matter of this gravity should not have been heard by a municipal court judge.”
However, he undertook an intensive review – then determined that Brennan’s charges “cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”