By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - A New Jersey judge on Thursday allowed a citizen's criminal complaint against state Governor Chris Christie over the "Bridgegate" scandal to move forward, referring it to state prosecutors for their consideration.
A court official confirmed that Roy McGeady, the presiding judge for municipal courts in Bergen County, had found probable cause for a complaint filed last month by Bill Brennan, an activist and retired firefighter, accusing Christie of official misconduct.
The decision adds to the "Bridgegate" woes of Christie, who became a major supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after dropping his own White House bid and has seen his approval ratings drop in New Jersey.
The case now moves to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, which will decide whether enough evidence exists to support a criminal charge. "The office has no comment at this time," Bergen County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Maureen Parenta said in an email.
Brennan filed the complaint in municipal court in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where Christie allies were accused of deliberately causing a massive traffic jam in September 2013 by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the town's mayor. The bridge is a major link to New York City.
Two of the Christie associates - his former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni - have been on trial in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, for their alleged roles in the scandal.
The resulting controversy helped scuttle Christie's bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Brennan's complaint was based on testimony from David Wildstein, another Port Authority executive who pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors, that Christie was aware of the lane closures at the time.
Brian Murray, a Christie spokesman, said the governor would appeal the ruling immediately.
"This is a dishonorable complaint filed by a known serial complainant and political activist with a history of abusing the judicial system," Murray said. "The simple fact is the governor had no knowledge of the lane realignments either before they happened or while they were happening. This matter has already been thoroughly investigated by three separate independent investigations."
Brennan has filed numerous complaints, as well as lawsuits, against various officials in New Jersey over the years.
Federal prosecutors have accused Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein of orchestrating the lane closures to send a message to Fort Lee Mayor Michael Sokolich after the Democrat refused to endorse Christie's 2013 gubernatorial re-election campaign.
At the time, Christie was already eyeing a White House run, and his advisers believed a show of bipartisan support would help enhance his national standing.
Christie, 54, was among the 17 Republicans who originally vied for the Republican presidential nomination, but he dropped out of the race in February after failing to gain traction in the early voting. He became one of eventual nominee Trump’s staunchest supporters.
Christie now heads the New York businessman's transition team, which would work to smooth the handover from Democratic President Barack Obama to Trump should Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Jonathan Oatis)