By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - A New Jersey judge plans to decide by Friday whether to dismiss a citizen's criminal complaint accusing Governor Chris Christie of a role in the "Bridgegate" lane-closure scandal.
Prosecutors in Bergen County told Judge Bonnie Mizdol on Wednesday that the case should be tossed on procedural grounds because a different judge who permitted it to advance failed to give Christie's lawyers an opportunity to speak at an earlier hearing.
A lawyer for Christie also urged Mizdol to throw out the complaint filed by Bill Brennan, a retired firefighter and activist who recently announced a long-shot bid to succeed the governor in this fall's election.
Christie did not attend the hearing in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Brennan has accused Christie of knowing about a scheme to shut down access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 to punish a local mayor for failing to endorse his reelection campaign.
Two former Christie associates were convicted in November of federal charges for orchestrating the plot. Christie has denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan, but U.S. prosecutors presented evidence at trial suggesting he was at least aware of the lane closures while they were happening.
Brennan filed the complaint in municipal court in Fort Lee, where the closures occurred.
In October, Judge Roy McGeady referred the complaint to prosecutors to determine whether enough evidence existed to support criminal charges against Christie.
Christie's lawyer, Craig Carpenito, said in a court filing that the matter should never have gotten that far, calling it "a political stunt from a now-declared candidate for governor."
Brennan has said he will refile his complaint if Mizdol, the top judge in Bergen County, decides to dismiss it. Last month, Mizdol denied Brennan's request to have an independent prosecutor assigned to the case.
"As of now the defendant controls the prosecutor," Brennan said in an email after the hearing, "and that is a dangerous place for us to be standing."
Despite Christie's denials, the scandal dogged his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination. He was once seen as a possible cabinet appointee for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump until the conviction of his former allies prompted a fresh round of negative attention.
Bridget Kelly, a former Christie chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive appointed by the governor, are trying to have their convictions overturned.
The Foreign Desk publishes a continuous stream of breaking news stories powered by Reuters as a service to readers, without additional editing of these articles.
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