A New Jersey judge allowed a citizen’s complaint against Republican Gov. Chris Christie for his alleged involvement in Bridgegate to proceed Thursday.
The complaint was brought by William Brennan, a New Jersey citizen frequently described as a “gadfly” by the local press, while the order, issued by Judge Roy McGeady, has raised eyebrows among legal observers.
The complaint against Christie is not the first time Brennan has been involved in litigation. He has brought nearly a half-dozen claims against municipal and state officials since 2013. All but one were dismissed in short order.
At various points he has lodged claims and suits against Christie, the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards, the Bergen county prosecutor, and the township of Wayne, where he resides. In his sole successful legal adventure, Brennan collected a $75,000 judgement from a state insurance fund and William Paterson University, after the school and Wayne Township declined to broadcast an episode of his cable access show called “New Jersey Civic Circus.” The university said they declined to broadcast the program because it contained vulgarity and violated general rules of conduct.
In addition, he was once escorted out of a town board meeting due to his numerous attempts to disrupt the proceedings. He staged an unsuccessful campaign for state assemblyman in 2011.
Brennan has also exhibited a tendency to indulge or promote conspiracy theories. He suggested, without evidence, that William Buckman, a prominent New Jersey civil rights attorney, may have been murdered in a June 2015 tweet. Authorities ruled Buckman’s death a suicide in Oct. 2014.
What’s more, Joe Mancano, a Philadelphia lawyer and former federal prosecutor with extensive experience in white collar criminal defense, says the order itself is on precarious legal footing.
“I’m frankly surprised that the court found probable cause to issue this complaint summons because there is clearly an insufficient factual basis for it,” Mancano told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Mancano explained the summons relied on two pieces of evidence. The first is the testimony of David Wildstein, a former administrator at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who took the stand during the ongoing trial of two public officials who allegedly planned and executed the scheme to close traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge. The second is a series of text messages from Christina Renna, a former state official who told a colleague by text that Christie was lying about his knowledge of and involvement in the Bridegate affair. (RELATED: Donald Trump Taps Chris Christie To Lead Transition Team)
Wildstein’s testimony does not establish that Christie was aware of the plan to close lanes of traffic on the bridge, or that the closures were pursued as political retribution against a local mayor who declined to support Christie’e reelection campaign, according to Mancano.
“No reading of the testimony establishes those things,” he said. He also explained the official misconduct statute requires a demonstration that the governor intentionally acted with a specific purpose in mind. “There’s nothing in that testimony that even comes close to establishing that mental element that’s required by the statute,” he said.
Mancano also explained that Renna recanted the content of the text messages relevant to the case during the ongoing trial.
“Moreover, Mr. Brennan, as a lawyer himself, had an obligation to advise the court of the recantation and he failed to do so. His failure to do so frankly is inexcusable. He allowed the court to proceed on a misconception about Ms. Renna.”
Taken together, Mancano argues it is clear there was not a sufficient factual basis for the complaint to move forward.
Brennan rebutted Mancano’s characterization speaking to reporters after the order was issued. “Anything short of probable cause today would have been official misconduct on the part of the judge,” he said. “The standard is low, the evidence is heavy.”
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