BRIDGEPORT — A judge agreed Monday to delay the trial challenging the appointment of Rebeca Garcia as assistant chief because the city’s two key witnesses, former Police Chief Armando Perez and Personnel Director David Dunn, are awaiting sentencing in federal court.

With just two days before the trial was to start remotely, Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens during a remote hearing Monday afternoon granted a continuance to Deputy City Attorney John Bohannon until at least late January.

“The ability of these two individuals (Perez and Dunn) to assist in the case has created a situation of difficulty,” the judge ruled.

Perez and Dunn are facing up to 24 months in prison each after pleading guilty in October in U.S. District Court here to conspiring to rig the examination process that led to Perez’s appointment as police chief and then lying to the FBI about it. Perez is being sentenced Jan. 4 and Dunn on Jan. 11.

Bohannon argued during Monday’s hearing that Perez and Dunn are essential witnesses for the city in defending itself against the lawsuit.

“I do need the assistance of Mr. Dunn and Mr. Perez. I have had no substantive conversations with them as a result of their criminal matters,” Bohannon told the judge. “They are concerned about any Fifth Amendment rights pending sentencing.”

But Thomas Bucci, who brought the civil lawsuit, retorted there is no guarantee that Perez and Dunn will cooperate after they are sentenced.

“Their own conduct should not delay my clients having their day in court,” Bucci said.

In December Garcia, then a captain, was appointed assistant chief by the mayor. She was then appointed acting police chief on the arrest and resignation of Perez. A ruling in favor of the lawsuit by Stevens could have a domino effect resulting in Garcia being removed as acting chief.

The suit was filed by captains Brian Fitzgerald, Steven Lougal and Roderick Porter, and Deputy Police Chief Anthony Armeno. They claim that the appointment of Garcia to assistant chief is “unlawful and invalid.”

The lawsuit states that under the city charter, the position of assistant chief is considered a classified service and must follow the competitive hiring provisions of the charter starting with a list of people eligible for the position and the scheduling of a competitive test for the job.

“The plaintiffs possess qualifications, in the least, equal to those of Captain Rebecca (sic) Garcia, and, under the City Charter must be allowed to compete for the position of assistant police chief, unless legitimately disqualified,” the suit states.