Judge Rejects Bid for Special Prosecutor to Investigate Christie in Bridge Scandal

A New Jersey judge on Friday dismissed a bid to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Gov. Chris Christie’s involvement in the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in 2013, leaving the case in the hands of a county prosecutor’s office that is led by one of Mr. Christie’s appointees.

In her decision, Judge Bonnie J. Mizdol of Bergen County Superior Court wrote that the citizen who made the request, William J. Brennan, did not have standing to make such a motion. Mr. Brennan had petitioned the court to order the recusal of the Bergen County prosecutor’s office and the state attorney general’s office, which are both overseen by appointees of Mr. Christie, a Republican.

But Judge Mizdol cited various precedents that indicated that Mr. Brennan did not have the legal right to file such motions in the case. “This court is mindful of the heightened concern for conflict when a governor is facing criminal prosecution by the very state he is tasked to govern,” Judge Mizdol wrote. “However, this court is duty-bound to uphold our Constitution, statutes, case law and court rules; none of which convey standing upon Brennan.”

Gurbir S. Grewal, the Bergen County prosecutor and a Democrat, has recused himself and designated another prosecutor in his office, John L. Higgins III, to oversee the case. The office has the authority to decide whether to pursue the case further.

Mr. Grewal’s office and the office of Christopher S. Porrino, the state attorney general and a Republican, submitted a joint brief opposing Mr. Brennan’s bid. Mr. Porrino, a former chief counsel to Mr. Christie, has also designated a subordinate to take over the case.

It was not clear if either office would move forward with the matter. The Bergen County prosecutor’s office currently has control of the case, according to a spokesman for Mr. Porrino. State law requires that civilian complaints be turned over to the county prosecutor’s office if a municipal court finds there is probable cause. Mr. Brennan’s complaint was filed in Bergen County, which includes the borough where the lane closings occurred, Fort Lee.

Mr. Grewal’s office did not respond to requests for comment or to questions about the case, including whether it planned to pursue it further.

Mr. Brennan, an activist and retired firefighter from Teaneck, N.J., with a history of lawsuits against government agencies, called the judge’s decision “an act of judicial cowardice.”

“The only one with standing to raise a conflict of interest is the person compromised by the conflict?” he said in a statement. “This is not justice.”

Mr. Brennan filed the complaint in September, using an aspect of New Jersey law that allows citizens to bring criminal complaints. A municipal court judge had allowed it to proceed after finding probable cause in October. The basis for the case, which accuses Mr. Christie of official misconduct for failing to act to reopen access lanes to the bridge, emerged this fall during the federal trial of two of Mr. Christie’s allies involved in the closings, Mr. Brennan said.

The two defendants, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, were found guilty by a jury in November of all charges related to the scheme to close the lanes to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Mr. Christie in his bid for re-election. Testimony during the trial indicated that the governor knew about the closings as they were happening, despite his assertions that he knew nothing about them until much later.

Craig Carpenito, a lawyer for Mr. Christie, called Mr. Brennan’s complaint “baseless,” questioned his motives for filing it and lauded the judge’s opinion. He said it was appropriate that the decision about whether to pursue the case would be left to members of the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, “who have a profound obligation to ensure that justice is done.”

If the case were to proceed, it would be another challenge for Mr. Christie stemming from the lane closings, the fallout from which hurt his campaign for president and damaged his reputation as a surrogate for President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Christie was replaced by Vice President-elect Mike Pence as the leader of Mr. Trump’s transition effort shortly after the election last month.

In a separate legal matter on Friday involving another Christie ally, United Airlines agreed to pay a $2.4 million settlement for reinstating a money-losing flight to South Carolina from Newark. The flight had been operated at the behest of David Samson, who was the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the lane closings and had a home in Aiken, S.C., the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Mr. Samson, who was appointed to his post by Mr. Christie, his longtime friend, pleaded guilty in July to a felony count of bribery in the case.

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