By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
The Bridgegate trial was about federal corruption charges. No one ever brought state charges of official misconduct against the governor or any of his people.
That is, until Bill Brennan did so last month. Brennan is a retired Teaneck firefighter and citizen activist — or gadfly, as his critics say.
Last month he convinced a municipal court judge there is probable cause for the complaint against Gov. Chris Christie to move forward, possibly resulting in a criminal charge.
That ruling led to this: State of New Jersey — William Brennan Complainant v. Christopher J. Christie.
Bergen County Superior Court Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol this morning entertaining a motion by Brennan to appoint a special prosecutor.
“I’m saying any time a governor or the attorney general of the state of New Jersey is the defendant and that causes a recusal, then a special prosecutor is warranted,” Brennan said.
Brennan’s accusation is that Christie should have halted the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge as soon as he heard about them, and that that dereliction of duty constitutes official misconduct.
“Remember, this is five years in jail, mandatory minimum, that the governor is facing. He will do what’s necessary in his mind to use all the leverage and authority that he can muster to make sure he stays out of jail. It’s a natural human instinct. He does not want to go to jail. He has shown a proclivity for the abuse of power. The trial in Newark established that that office was not being run out of a sense of duty to the public,” Brennan said.
Attorney General Chris Porrino, who was Christie chief counsel, has recused himself from the Brennan matter. So has Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal.
But Brennan argues the people they designate to handle the matter for them are equally beholden to Christie.
“It’s an indictment of the defendant, and leaving it in the hands of people whose careers depend upon the defendant is just untenable,” Brennan said.
“Your honor, this is just another attempt by Mr. Brennan to obfuscate and to try and prolong his 15 minutes in the public eye,” said Christie’s attorney, Craig Carpenito.
Carpenito, of New York City, argued the Christie administration is following protocol.
“What we have is good government and there’s an established set of rules and laws for conflicts. Mr. Brennan ignores the fact that prior to making this motion to your honor, Christopher Porrino rescued himself from this matter, Gubir Grewal recused himself from this matter. That’s the process,” Carpenito said.
That argument was echoed by representatives of the Attorney General’s Office and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, but challenged by Brennan.
“When the governor is the defendant and they have admitted that that conflict attaches to them, where is the chain broken? This is a master-servant relationship, and the very people they’ve designated are bound by the same conflicts,” Brennan said.
Christie’s lawyer questioned Brennan’s standing to even bring a case, especially after three lengthy and multi-year investigations into Bridgegate.
“The case is over. Mr. Brennan is trying to revive it quite frankly for his own prurient interest,” Carpenito said.
It’s an unusual case, a criminal complaint by a citizen against a governor being heard by the highest level trial-level judge in the county. Judge Mizdol said she’d issue a written opinion on the matter by the end of business Friday.
Christie critic Sen. Ray Lesniak attended.
“I think there’s a very good chance that she appoints a special prosecutor in this case. The argument by Mr. Brennan was powerful,” he said.
It looked like the beginning of a beautiful relationship.