New Jersey governor Chris Christie is facing an official misconduct complaint stemming from the closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
A judge signed the summons on Thursday, sending the case to the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, which will decide whether the case will lead to an indictment. The Republican governor appointed the prosecutor.
Municipal court administrative specialist Jessica Lemley said a complaint of official misconduct would mean Christie – currently a key aide to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump – is accused of knowingly refraining from performing a duty imposed on him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.
Official misconduct carries a possible sentence of five to 10 years.
Christie’s spokesman said the ruling was being appealed. He said that the governor had no knowledge of the so-called Bridgegate plot and that case had already been “thoroughly investigated”.
Two former Christie appointees are on trial accused of orchestrating the lane closures in September 2013 as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.
Christie has said he did not know about the plot. “I had no knowledge, prior to or during these lane realignments, I had no role in authorizing it, I had no knowledge of it, and there’s been no evidence ever put forward that I did,” he said in September.
Christie has faced repeated questions for the past three years over his role in the illegal lane closures of a road in Fort Lee leading into the George Washington Bridge, connecting New York and New Jersey, which created a large traffic jam. He has apologized to the family of a 91-year-old woman who died during the lane closures when an ambulance took seven minutes to reach her. “All I can do is apologize for the conduct of the people who worked for me,” the governor said. “I can’t reverse time. Believe me, I would.”
Several investigations by state and federal authorities suggested that the lane closures had been orchestrated by Christie’s aides as retribution for Fort Lee mayor’s failure to endorse Christie in his re-election campaign.
The criminal complaint was filed by a New Jersey activist, Bill Brennan, in late September and accuses the governor of misconduct for having knowledge of his aides’ conduct and the motivations behind it.
Despite his denials, Christie’s involvement in the case has repeatedly been drawn into question as the trial of his aides unfolds in Newark.
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni are currently on trial for charges of fraud and conspiracy, while a third aide, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with the prosecution.
He testified that the governor knew by midweek that the lane shutdowns were intended as payback against Fort Lee’s mayor.
In their opening statements federal prosecutors also claimed that Christie was aware of the lane closures. Kelly’s lawyer also suggested that Christie had knowledge of the plot before and during the lane closures.
The criminal summons signed by a judge on Thursday is separate to the federal case and will be referred to the Bergen County prosecutor’s office. However, Bergen County prosecutor Gurbir Grewal was recently re-appointed by Christie himself and the case may raise questions of conflict of interest.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.