New Jersey taxpayers’ toll for ‘Bridgegate’ fallout rises
TRENTON -- The cost to New Jersey taxpayers for the legal fallout from the George Washington Bridge scandal is still going up.
The state will spend up to $10,000 for an attorney to defend Republican Gov. Chris Christie after a citizen filed an official misconduct complaint, alleging that Christie failed to order subordinates to re-open the bridge access lanes from Fort Lee.
A letter dated Oct. 14 from Attorney General Christopher Porrino to attorney Craig Carpenito outlines the arrangement and was released in response to an open records request. It specifies that attorney's fees per hour will be $150.
Two of Christie's former aides were convicted this month for their role in the plot and a third ally pleaded guilty. Christie has denied any wrongdoing and continues to maintain he had no knowledge about the plot, despite testimony that he was told about the lane closures before they happened and while the epic traffic jams were ongoing.
The money to defend Christie is in addition to the roughly $11 million taxpayers spent for another law firm hired by the Republican governor to investigate the 2013 lane closures, as well as more than $1 million incurred by a special investigative legislative committee.
A superior court judge set a Jan. 11, 2017, date to hear the governor's motion to appeal the criminal summons in the citizen's complaint filed by retired Teaneck firefighter William Brennan. A separate hearing on whether to appoint a special prosecutor in the matter is scheduled for Nov. 30.
It alleges Christie "knowingly refrained from ordering that his subordinates take all necessary action to re-open local access lanes" that had been "closed with the purpose to injure (Democratic) Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich" for not endorsing Christie's re-election bid.
The complaint claims residents were "deprived the benefit and enjoyment of their community."
Christie denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged in what prosecutors say was a political payback scheme to create traffic jams at the bridge, which connects Fort Lee with New York and is one of the busiest bridges in the world.
Christie's office has called Brennan a "serial complainant with a history of abusing the system."
Brennan on Tuesday disputed the negative characterization.
"If these people stopped breaking the law, I wouldn't be a serial complainant," he said.
Carpenito earlier told a municipal court judge the complaint was "intentionally misleading" and what Christie knew about the closures was already thoroughly investigated.
Official misconduct is considered a second-degree offense in New Jersey and carries a possible sentence of five to 10 years in prison upon conviction.
Speaking Wednesday in Atlantic City, the Democratic leaders of the Legislature said they're moving on from the bridge scandal. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he is not pursuing impeachment and Senate President Steve Sweeney said it's time to move forward.
Though they both added that their staffs are reviewing trial transcripts to do "due diligence" to determine whether any further investigation should go forward.
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