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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    He's pleaded guilty to groping women in Philadelphia and is facing similar charges in New York

    A former neurologist who practiced in Hopewell Township has been indicted on 15 counts of sexual assault charges accusing him of abusing seven female patients over a two-year span, the Mercer County Prosecutor's office said Thursday. 

    Ricardo Cruciani, 63, is charged with eight counts of second-degree sexual assault and seven counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact for assaulting women while he was a chief neuroscientist at Capital Health's Institute of Neurosciences.

    The institute is based at Capital Health Medical Center-Hopewell.

    Ricardo Cruciani[2] copy.jpgRucardi Cruciani (Police photo)

    Cruciani has also pleaded guilty to groping women at a Philadelphia clinic in late 2017, and faces additional charges for repeatedly raping a patient over the course of eight years in New York City, and sexually assaulting others.

    The Mercer prosecutor's office said some of the women who came forward in New Jersey were emboldened to do so after reading about his guilty plea in Philadelphia. 

    The indictments allege acts of sexual assault and touching by use of physical force or coercion.

    Some of the women involved in the New Jersey case against Cruciani were also women involved in the New York and Pennsylvania cases, the Mercer prosecutor's office said.

    The Associated Press previously reported that at least 17 women in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey have accused Cruciani of sexual misconduct over 12 years.

    Cruciani, who specialized in rare, complicated syndromes that produce debilitating pain, had his medical license revoked in late 2017. He worked at Capital Health's Hopewell campus until late 2015. 

    "We are deeply disturbed by these allegations and began investigating them as soon as we became aware of them through media reports," a Capital Health spokesperson said in an email.

    The statement said the hospital found no evidence of complaints of sexual misconduct against Cruciani, and are "committed to investigating all complaints brought forth by patients or our staff."

    Cruciani's lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Eric Howell admitted to taking upskirt photos and videos at the school where he was chemistry teacher

    A former Lenape High School teacher admitted to recording upskirt videos and taking photos of female students in his classroom and the school's hallways, the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office announced. 

    Eric T. Howell, 44, of the first block of Dogwood Court in Maple Shade, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, in Burlington County Superior Court.

    Eric Howell.jpgEric Howell 

    The plea agreement stipulates that Howell be sentenced to five years in state prison, the prosecutor's office said. 

    Howell admitted placing a camera in a coconut water drink container in the side of his briefcase so it could record under girls' skirts or loose-fitting shorts as he walked near them.

    The school's administration was notified of Howell's behavior on May 2, 2017 - someone watched him passing behind a female student and extending his arm sideways, an apparent an attempt to position the camera under her skirt.

    He was suspended from his chemistry teaching position that same day, and was subsequently fired, the office said.

    Howell had been working at the school since 2016. School officials contacted police after receiving the information and were fully cooperative with law enforcement. The investigation revealed that Howell did not share or upload the videos and recordings, the prosecutor's office said. 

    He is currently out of jail on supervised release, and has been receiving treatment at a behavioral health facility. Howell is expected to be sentenced on June 20. 

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook  


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    Carrier Clinic, a century-old institution in the Belle Mead section of Montgomery, offers the full scope of inpatient, outpatient and residential treatment -- giving New Jerseyans fewer reasons to seek care outside the state, the CEOs said.

    Looking to expand its vast holdings in New Jersey to include more addiction treatment and mental health services, Hackensack Meridian Health announced Thursday it was exploring a partnership with Carrier Clinic in Somerset County.

    The two entities signed a "letter of intent" to explore how they may work together at a time when deaths from opioid overdoses remain at a record high, CEOs from both companies said in a prepared statement.

    "The opioid crisis is unprecedented in its scope and intensity and this partnership would enhance our efforts to be part of the solution,'' John K. Lloyd, Co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, said in a statement.

    "It would also deliver a team-based care approach to behavioral health patients who too often received fragmented care which doesn't yield the best outcomes.''

    For the 12-month period from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, 2,284 people died of an overdose in New Jersey, a 34.7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, according to the CDC. Only Florida, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Ohio saw more significant increases.

    Carrier Clinic, a century-old institution in the Belle Mead section of Montgomery, offers the full scope of inpatient, outpatient and residential treatment -- giving New Jerseyans fewer reasons to seek care outside the state, the CEOs said.

    "This plan will create exceptional, comprehensive care at a time of great need for expanded, enhanced, and innovative behavioral health services,'' said Donald J. Parker, president and CEO of Carrier Clinic.

    "Hackensack Meridian Health and the Carrier Clinic have announced a letter of intent between the organizations to explore the Carrier Clinic joining Hackensack Meridian Health. Part of the due diligence is determining exactly what structure would emerge," Hackensack Meridian Health spokeswoman Mary Jo Layton said. "There are different options ... and they are all being explored."

    Hackensack Meridian acquires another hospital, now N.J.'s largest chain

    Carrier's facilities include a licensed 281-bed capacity hospital; the Blake Recovery Center, a licensed 40-bed inpatient and outpatient detox and recovery facility; East Mountain Youth Lodge, which can house up to 91 residents ages 13-18; and East Mountain School, a fully-accredited school for 120 middle-school and high-school students.

    Carrier Clinic employs nearly 1,000 people.

    Teaming up with Carrier would bolster Hackensack Meridian's growing portfolio of mental health services, the announcement said. It recently added 37 inpatient beds to its 150-bed capacity, and is starting two new psychiatry residency programs in July.

    "It continues our commitment to fully integrate behavioral health into our network for the benefit of our patients," said Robert C. Garrett, Co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health.

    The agreement is just the latest announcement in a long line of mergers and acquisitions in New Jersey's hospital landscape over the last decade. Hackensack and Meridian were two separate entities until their merger in 2016.

    Last week, Virtua Health, which owns three hospitals in Burlington County announced it was exploring an agreement to acquire the two hospitals in the Lourdes Health System in Camden and Burlington.

    NJ Advance Media Stephen Stirling contributed to this report.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.


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    Members of the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee have moved to advance a bill to allow terminally ill people to receive medication from their doctor to help end their lives.

    The debate was lengthy and heated - as it should be, given the gravity of the subject.

    By the time it was over earlier this month, members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee had moved to advance a bill to allow terminally ill people to receive medication from their doctor to help end their lives.

    The vote was 5-2. If the bill eventually makes it to the governor's desk, and is signed into law, New Jersey will join six other states in giving patients a say in how their final six months of life will play out.

    The measure is called "Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act," so titled to stress that patients themselves must administer the drugs their physician has prescribed.

    Those patients will be carefully screened, to safeguard against potential abuses.

    Only those who have been diagnosed with an incurable, irreversible and medically confirmed disease will be eligible. Patients will be required to undergo a 15-day waiting period, and two individuals will be called on to testify that the patient is of sound mind.

    Twice before a similar measure has passed the Assembly, only to stall in the state Senate for lack of votes. The knowledge that former governor Chris Christie was almost certain to veto the bill also helped doom past attempts.

    How N.J. lawmakers voted after emotional hearing

    Patterned after a bill on the books in Oregon since 1997, the act has found favor with many of the state's nurses, physicians and family caregivers, as well as patients themselves, who view it as a way to limit the suffering many cancer patients and others face as their days dwindle.

    Receptive to past criticism, namely the concern that terminally ill patients were not aware of alternatives such as hospice and palliative care, the act's sponsors rewrote previous versions to include these options.

    The bill also got push back from people with physical disabilities, who were legitimately concerned that with the bill's passage, they might be steered toward suicide, either by subtle pressure from family members, or by guilt at being perceived a burden.

    Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties) addressed those issues as well. He noted that the bill specifically states that disabilities are not terminal illnesses, and that anyone who believes disabled people are at risk because of it has been mis-counseled.

    A 2015 Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 63-percent of Garden State residents favored offering this humane and compassionate path to dying patients; more recent national polls confirm that two-thirds of Americans also support it.

    Burzichelli and Co. had the courage to hold on to their conviction. With a new Legislature and a new governor, the Aid in Dying Act could move closer to reality, closer to insuring dignity and control at a time when people need them most.

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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    If there's a pot o' gold to be found this Paddy's Day, it will be probably be in the one of these towns.


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    The robbery case against the man was dismissed earlier this year

    A Hamilton man accused of robbing a local CVS two years ago while a high school student is suing the town and police claiming he was the target of fabricated evidence and a false arrest by police who violated his civil rights. 

    The robbery case against Michael Lionelli was dismissed in January, for lack of evidence, records show and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office confirmed this week.

    Lionelli, in a lawsuit against Hamilton and its police, attacks the entire police investigation.

    Hamilton's township attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The incident occurred on Jan. 17, 2016. Lionelli was an 18-year-old student at Hamilton High School West at the time.

    Lionelli was pulled over by Lawrence Township police, after they had received a report that a CVS had been robbed in Hamilton as well as a description of a possibly involved vehicle.

    During the stop, Lionelli and two juvenile passengers were asked to step out of the car after Lionelli told the officer he had a small amount of marijuana.

    Unbeknownst to Lionelli and the passengers at the time, the suit claims the Hamilton police drove by the stop to conduct a "show up" identification procedure.

    The victim of the robbery - a CVS employee - was in the Hamilton police car to see if he could identify the person who robbed him, the suit says.

    Hamilton police officer Peter Frascella wrote in a report that night the robbery that the victim, "stated he believed (Lionelli) to be the suspect of the robbery," and that Lionelli's voice matched the person who had robbed him.

    The identification was "pure fabrication," and the victim never recognized his voice, the suit says.

    Fracella's report also indicated he interviewed a female witness who said she saw a male jump a fence near the CVS parking lot and then return a few minutes later yelling "let's go, get out of here," and getting back into the car and driving away. 

    In the affidavit of probable cause Hamilton Detective Gary Burger wrote, the witness "observed the defendant and two co-defendants pull away from the scene in a vehicle." 

    The suit says the female witness never identified Lionelli or any of the other passengers in the car.

    No weapons were found in the search of the car and the juvenile passengers in the car initially said Lionelli did not have anything to do with the robbery, then later said he had robbed the CVS. 

    Lionelli was initially with robbery, weapons charges and the use of a juvenile to commit a crime.

    A few days after Lionelli's arrest, the female passenger was interviewed by Burger for a second time and said she had lied about knowing anything about the CVS robbery in her previous interviews.

    As investigation of the incident continued, the female witness told Burger that she had refused to give a statement on what she had witnessed when Frascella initially interviewed her the night of the incident. 

    The suit claims that Frascella and Burger fabricated evidence by preparing false reports that the robbery victim identified Lionelli and the witness saw him at the scene.

    They are also accused of coercing the juvenile passengers into implicating Lionelli, and themselves, in the crime - an act none had a role in, the suit says.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook  

     

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    Some districts would get millions more. Other would get flat funding.

    Gov. Phil Murphy's first state budget would boost funding for 546 school districts, with more than half of them seeing at least a 5 percent increase in state aid, according to new state data. 

    The Democratic governor this week called for a $283 million increase in direct aid to schools, bringing total state funding for districts to more than $9.6 billion.

    Exactly what would that mean for districts?

    It could be millions more or nothing at all, depending on a district's demographics and enrollment -- core aspects of the state's school funding formula. 

    Newark Public Schools would get the largest increase, $37.5 million more -- a 5 percent increase that would bring state aid to nearly $790 million. 

    Haworth Public Schools is set up for the largest percentage increase, 16.5 percent. But for a district that receives little state aid, that's only $37,306 more, not even enough to hire a full-time teacher. 

    Thirty one districts would receive flat funding, but Murphy may have done them a favor anyway. If strictly followed, the school funding formula calls for decreased funding to districts with declining enrollment or certain demographic changes. 

    Even with the increases, though, most districts are receiving less than they should under the funding formula. Murphy said he wants to close that gap over the next four years. 

    Check out the tool below to see what Murphy's budget means for each district. 

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    Carla Astudillo may be reached at castudillo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @carla_astudi. Find her on Facebook.

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook

     

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    Bridget Foti, at the youngest eligible age, will compete in the 2018 World Irish Dancing Championships Watch video

    When Bridget Foti was a 3-year-old preschooler, her best friend Shawna told her about something called Irish dancing.

    "She brought me here to the studio and ever since my first class, I've just loved it!" Bridget recalled recently.

    "I come to practice 5 to 6 days a week and practice every day at home," the Ewing girl said.

    The practice is paying off. 

    She's qualified to participate in the World Irish Dancing Championships in Glasgow, starting later this month - in her first year of age eligibility.

    Bridget has been studying at the Kotelnicki School of Irish Dance in Hamilton for seven years now under the tutelage of Justin Kotelnicki, who's has won regional and national championships in Irish Dancing and has been ranked as high as number two in the world.

    He said he he recognizes talent when he sees it.

    "Bridget was a special case. You knew from the time she put shoes on that she was going to be special," he said.

    Kotelnicki also toured for ten years with the International production of Lord of the Dance.

    "I had a good run, but now it's all about the kids. It's being able to pass on something that you love and you're passionate about to the children. That's my greatest joy now."

    Bridget's mom Jennifer says Bridget, "found her passion very early and I support it."

    "People always say to me 'You give up all your time for practice, and weekends for competition and you spend all this money on the dresses and the shoes and the wigs...' "

    "As long as she wants to dance, I'll do whatever it takes for her," mom said.

    Bridget's younger sister, Molly, 7, is following in her big sister's dance steps. She also began classes at age 3.

    As mom Jennifer says about attending competitions, along with her husband William, "Usually we're always all together. It's a family affair."

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at mmancuso@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The crash occurred Friday near milepost 69 in Lawrence Township.

    A portion of Route 295 South in Mercer County was closed Friday after a dump truck overturned, spewing rocks and gravel across the highway, according to New Jersey State Police.

    The accident occurred near milepost 69 in Lawrence Township, not far from the Princeton exit. State Police posted photos online of the truck, lying on its side on the highway.

    State police said all southbound lanes in the area were closed and that drivers should expect afternoon delays.

    The truck driver sustained injuries that were not considered life-threating, state police said.

    The cause of the crash wasn't immediately available.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at tattrino@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The investigation of a Trenton police officer is now with federal authorities

    A Trenton police officer has been removed from duty while authorities investigate at least two incidents in which he used excessive force during arrests last year, two law enforcement sources say.

    The investigation of Anthony Villanueva, a city officer since 2015, started last year by Trenton police and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office, but has since been taken over by the FBI, the sources said.

    Among the incidents, investigators are looking at the officer's conduct with a suspect in the moments after a police chase in Trenton in April 2017, sources said.

    The sources could not be identified publicly because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

    Mercer County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio confirmed that the office was investigating Villanueva, but it was referred to federal authorities in July of last year.

    DeBlasio had no further comment.

    Trenton Police Director Ernest Parrey Jr. also declined to answer any questions about Villanueva.

    The director did confirm Villanueva was suspended without pay in early February of this year, after being suspended with pay sometime last year. He declined to answer any other questions.

    Villanueva was making about $59,100 when suspended, state records show.

    Doreen Holder, spokeswoman for the FBI's New Jersey office, said the agency could neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of an investigation.

    Villanueva's alleged conduct on the arrests was uncovered during reviews of police body camera footage by Mercer prosecutor's officials, the sources said. Trenton patrol officers started wearing body cameras in May 2016.

    Authorities are examining two incidents from 2017 in which Villanueva was present, the sources said.

    One was the April 2017 arrest of Trenton resident Chanzie Washington, who officers apprehended following a vehicle pursuit, and foot pursuit.

    Officers - including Villanueva - apprehended Washington at Passaic and West Hanover streets after he eluded them by jumping in the Delaware and Raritan Canal and swam to the other side.

    The police department had publicly commented on the arrest, saying Washington, 36, at the time, was detained following a brief struggle with officers.

    A third-degree eluding charge against Washington for the incident was later dismissed by the prosecutor's office, court records show.

    The investigation of Villanueva and his recent suspension is known topic among many Trenton police officers.

    Attempts to reach him Friday were unsuccessful. He graduated from the Mercer County Police Academy in February 2015.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

     


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    A newly enacted New Jersey law, signed last July by Gov. Chris Christie and put into effect last month, has tightened laws against the purveyors of child pornography.

    One of society's primary responsibilities is to protect its youngest and most vulnerable.

    We haven't always done that job so well in the United States. Witness the students' despair and desperation last week as hundreds of thousands of them joined hands and marched out of school buildings across the country to demand safer schools.

    But at least one attempt to keep children safe shows New Jersey is doing something very right.

    A newly enacted measure, signed last July by Gov. Chris Christie and put into effect last month, has tightened laws against the purveyors of child pornography.

    It is aimed at putting more predators behind bars by closing gaps in existing laws, as well as allowing law-enforcement officials to track down and charge offenders earlier in their process of collecting their toxic filth.

    Under the new guidelines, the definition of child pornography has been expanded to include images portraying children in a sexual manner, not just those portraying nude children.

    How feds say child-porn network thrived in prison

    This classification of "child erotica" means that if a pose or composition of a photo is taken or used in a sexual manner, it will be considered pornography.

    Eli Honig, director of the state's Division of Criminal Justice, explained that the law addresses the reality that there are many ways children can be exploited without being fully naked.

    Moreover, the new law says someone who runs a child pornography network can be charged with a first-degree crime if the offense involves more than 100,000 child pornography items.

    Such an astonishing figure is made possible by technology that enables users to download - and share - files much more easily than ever before, creating what law-enforcement officers term "super-possessors."

    These super-creeps face punishments of up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines if they are convicted.

    Honig lauded the new policies, noting that they allow prosecutors to charge offenders with a longer list of crimes, and to inflict harsher penalties for convictions.

    It's not uncommon, officials say, for people to start out looking at child erotica poses and then move on to harsher, more hands-on crimes.

    A nine-month investigation, labeled "Operation Safety Net" and concluded in December, led to the arrests of 79 people, including four alleged child predators in California and Indiana who were charged with trying to have children transported from New Jersey by adult traffickers, as well as four men in New Jersey who allegedly sought to lure children for sex.

    Because such atrocities happen behind closed doors, we generally don't see them. And all too often, the victims are too young, too innocent or too scared to report them.

    Equipping prosecutors with these new tools is a necessary and welcome antidote, one more way to try to keep our children out of harm's way.  

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

     

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    All high-risk and most moderate-risk offenders are listed online -- 4,397 as of Wednesday.


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    Jake Bongiovi and Rickey Eng organized The Pennington School's anti-gun violence protest Wednesday. Watch video

    It was a Saturday soon after 17 people were brutally killed in Parkland, Fla., when Jake Bongiovi and Rickey Eng saw plans on Instagram for a national student walkout. 

    The pair, both sophomores at The Pennington School, felt inspired by the movement that called for students to leave their schools in unison in support of government action to prevent school shootings.

    "It's enough. It's happened too many times that we watch it," said Bongiovi, 15, who is the son of rock star and New Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi. "And we cannot let it go away this time." 

    With the support of the school's administration, Bongiovi and Eng, 16, planned what was meant to be an apolitical event uniting students around a common goal of increasing safety. Although the pair said they want gun laws to change to make students safer, they purposely avoided promoting specific legislation. 

    On Wednesday, roughly 400 of the school's 500 students with a range of political views ultimately donned donated orange shirts with "#ENOUGH" written on the front, Eng said. The backs of the shirts had the dates of the Parkland and Columbine High School shootings, and read "Classes take a pause until Congress passes laws." 

    Students gathered at 10 a.m. in the campus gymnasium, where the names of the Parkland victims were read, a supportive video message from Gov. Phil Murphy played and four students called for Congress to act to make schools safer. The students then walked outside for a moment of silence. 

    "Whenever there's a shooting, you're almost like, 'Imagine if that was at my high school. What would the people here do? How would we react? What is our school doing to keep this from happening?,' Eng said.

    "But, it shouldn't come to the point where you're thinking, 'Imagine if that was at my school, because it really shouldn't be happening at any school.'" 

    The Pennington School was locked down for about 20 minutes five days before the walkout because of a suspicious person at a nearby school, Pennington School spokeswoman Lori Lipsky said. Eng said some students' fears that their lives were in danger drove them to participate in the walkout. 

    National Walkout Day saw thousands of students in New Jersey walk out, sit in or hold a memorial service for the people killed in Parkland. While many schools supported the demonstrations, others threatened punishments ranging from weekend detentions to two-day suspensions. 

    Bongiovi said he had been involved with activism before helping to lead his school's walkout, going to Women's Marches and protests with his family. He said his dad's famous philanthropy, mainly through the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, largely influences his own desire to promote causes he believes in. 

    In addition to being a famous rocker, Jon Bon Jovi has used his wealth to fund affordable housing, support a homeless shelter in Camden and create pay-what-you-can "JBJ Soul Kitchens." 

    Bongiovi said his decision to help lead Pennington's student walkout, however, was influenced more by the passion of his peers.

    "He's (My dad has) really been some sort of an inspiration to me, as well, but I think it was really special that it was more the students inspiring each other," Bongiovi said. "Our bravery spouts from each other." 

    Bongiovi and Eng are already organizing a second walkout for April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School that killed 12 students, one teacher and the two perpetrators. They hope to recruit Murphy or some of New Jersey's congressional representatives to speak.

    Marisa Iati may be reached at miati@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Iati or on Facebook here. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    Rev. Gerrard Lynch resigned from his position at the parish.

    A Catholic priest accused of harassing female church employees and making inappropriate comments has resigned from his position at The Church of Saint Ann in Lawrence.

    Rev. Gerrard Lynch resigned from his position at the parish on March 7. He has since returned to the Trinitarian Order, a Diocese of Trenton spokeswoman said Friday.

    A lawsuit filed last month by current and former employees of the church accuse Lynch of being biased against them and saying vulgar, demeaning and inappropriate things, which caused them "fear, consternation and loss of faith."

    They also accuse the Diocese of Trenton of inadequately responding to their complaints or failing to act after they reported Lynch's alleged behavior and comments.

    Suit says priest told women they smelled, one looked like 'dead rat''

    The exact reason for Lynch's departure from the parish was not immediately made known. 

    Monsignor Casimir Ladzinski has temporarily replaced Lynch, according to St. Ann's website. 

    Among the women's allegations in the suit are that Lynch spread a false rumor that one was having an affair with a priest, one was promiscuous, he referred to one's hairpiece as a "dead rat" and regularly made inappropriate comments about their appearances, and other women.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook  

     

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    How should cheaters be punished? At Princeton, it's getting complicated.

    Imagine you're a Princeton University student who's been accused of cheating on a test. 

    Maybe you blatantly used your cell phone to lookup answers. Maybe someone accused you of copying them. Or maybe you had an anxiety attack and ran from the room with your exam in hand, technically in violation of the university's revered Honor Code. 

    How should you be punished?

    After years of Princeton doling out one-year suspensions for first-time violations of its Honor Code, students passed a referendum this fall to reduce the standard penalty for cheating on exams to disciplinary probation -- or so they thought.

    With the vote, they ignited a messy and historic fight that has divided the student body, provoked alumni and prompted the administration to intervene. 

    "Academic integrity is one of the hallmarks of a Princeton education," university officials told students in January, when Princeton put the suggested revisions on hold until the faculty makes a recommendation to accept or reject them. "We must follow longstanding procedure that gives faculty input and oversight regarding these vital decisions."

    The dispute stems from what probably seemed like a simple pact in 1893, when Princeton professors agreed not to proctor exams in exchange for students pledging not to cheat and to report anyone who even looked like they were trying to gain an unfair advantage. 

    The Honor Code, similar to those at other major universities, has survived several controversies and revisions since then, including a 1975 decision to reduce the punishment for first-time offenders from expulsion to a one-year suspension.

    Today, accused cheaters are reported to the Honor Committee, students who investigate the cases and hand out punishments. First offenders can be punished with a one-year suspension or longer, unless there are extenuating circumstances,  and second offenders can be expelled. 

    With the recommended punishment of disciplinary probation, students would be able to continue taking classes unless they are caught violating the Honor Code again. 

    The university couldn't provide data on how many cases the committee hears a year, spokesman Daniel Day said. 

    "But I do know that the number of suspensions in a typical year is very small, a single-digit figure," he explained.

    The best 'value' colleges in N.J.

    In recent years, however, some students complained the code was enforced too strictly and students whose cases fell into a gray area were suspended, regardless of the circumstances. 

    Justin Ziegler, a 2016 Princeton alumnus who served on the Honor Committee, said the group began to lose sight of nuance -- did a student actually have intent to cheat? Were their actions influenced by a mental health crisis? 

    In one case, a student who ran out of the exam room during an anxiety attack was suspended because she took her test with her as she vomited in the bathroom, he said.

    The Honor Committee was heavily influenced by administrators who warned decisions must be consistent, a safeguard against potential litigation, he said.

    Ramifications for students accused of cheating can be life changing, he added. 

    "We are not talking about slaps on the wrist," Ziegler said. "You have a scarlet letter on your transcript in perpetuity... this is something that follows you." 

    The committee is supposed to consider whether a reasonable student would have known he was breaking the rules, said Micah Herskind, a junior and former member of the Honor Committee.

    But the members consist of class presidents and students who apply for a position on the board, and Herskind thinks those students often took a harsher stance based on their own perspective as "ideal students," he said. 

    "It very quickly becomes the ideal student standard rather than the reasonable student standard," he said. 

    If students are going to get punished for misunderstandings, Herskind thinks the penalty should be softer, like probation with a warning that the next violation will bring a suspension or expulsion. The probation would carry consequences, too, becasue graduate schools and fellowships require students to report if they have ever been disciplined, he said. 

    Change doesn't come easy at an Ivy League university steeped in tradition, though. And especially not when that change is considered a slap in the face to the very standards that built Princeton's reputation. 

    As Herskind promoted a student referendum to revise the Honor Code this fall, other former Honor Committee members wrote letters to the student newspaper urging students to vote it down. 

    "We've seen firsthand the respect for honor, integrity and commitment that Princeton alumni are routinely accorded because of our high standards and ideals," wrote a group of nine former Honor Committee chairs. "Any change diluting the meaningfulness of the Honor Code could slowly erode the reputation that we will rely on for the rest of our careers and lives."

    Students voted overwhelmingly to pass the referendum, along with other revisions to the Honor Code, including allowing a student's professor to effectively close the case by testifying that the student did not cheat. But the administration quickly stepped in, saying any major changes to the Honor Code need faculty approval. 

    "Our concern," said Jill Dolan, a university dean, "is that the proposed changes would fundamentally alter the expectations the faculty had in authorizing the establishment of the Honor System." 

    One of the administration's biggest worries is that lowering the punishment for cheating on exams would upset the balance of the discipline system. Plagiarism, an allegation reported to a separate disciplinary committee, would still carry a harsher penalty, such as suspension or expulsion. 

    The administration set up a committee to review the changes, with a recommendation expected this spring. Though the changes appear unlikely to win approval from the faculty, Ziegler cautioned against dismissing the students motivation for change.

    "It's easy to make this a story of students who feel entitled, who don't want to get kicked out of school for cheating," Ziegler said. "It's also easy to make this a story of a university that's old fashioned and out of date. But it really is something in the middle, and it's something that affected people's lives very intimately." 

    Adam Clark may be reached at adam_clark@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The longtime store - now called Harry's Outdoor - will soon close its doors Watch video

    Rick Mehr felt it was time.

    Trenton-area landmark Harry's Army Navy, recently known as Harry's Outdoor, will be closing its doors soon after 69 years.

    Mehr does not have an exact date, but the store that dates to 1949 will not see 2019.

    The unique enterprise all began when Rick's father, Harry Mehr, having just returned home from World War II, began selling military surplus clothing and assorted gear from his truck and at stands at various New Jersey flea markets.

    The business grew from there to include a store on Route 130 in Hamilton, and in 1972, Harry's only son Rick - fresh out of college - joined the business and later helped with a 7,000 square-foot expansion which was added to the business.

    Rick further expanded the selection of hunting and fishing gear.

    "We evolved into the largest hunting store in New Jersey through the 60's, 70's and 80's and then about ten years ago we sold our whole hunting business off," he said.

    "But we were the number one hunting dealer in the tri-state area," he said with pride.

    Without the hunting aspect, the store became more of an outdoors gear store, catering to people going camping, fishing and taking trips, and those interested in casual and work clothing and shoes.

    Two years ago, Mehr decided to change the name to Harry's Outdoor.

    "Honestly, I don't think everyone knows what an Army Navy store means in the younger generation," he said of the name change.

    The store is currently offering 20 percent off everything in the store with deeper discounts on some items, as much as 80 percent off.

    Everything's for sale: inventory, fixtures, even the two larger-than-life size figures flanking the entrance, one a statue of Uncle Sam, the other a combat soldier.

    Michael Mancuso may be reached at mmancuso@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @michaelmancuso. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption.

    Here is this week's collection of some of the dogs and cats in need of adoption in New Jersey.

    We are now accepting dogs and cats to appear in the gallery from nonprofit shelters and rescues throughout New Jersey.

    If a group wishes to participate in this weekly gallery on nj.com, please contact Greg Hatala at ghatala@starledger.com or call 973-836-4922.


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    Harry's Outdoor - formerly Harry's Army Navy - is closing after 69 years. Here are some items you might not find at other stores


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    Find out who landed on 1st, 2nd and 3rd Team All-State.


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    The convoluted, drawn-out court battle over affordable housing in New Jersey's suburbs has yielded a new victory for housing advocates.

    Two wealthy New Jersey towns will have to plan for more than 2,200 low- and moderate-income units, according to a court ruling that advocates say sends a strong message to municipalities resisting affordable housing.

    Mercer County Assignment Judge Mary C. Jacobson last week ruled Princeton would have to accommodate 753 new affordable units and West Windsor 1,500. 

    But the bigger takeaway may be the judge's conclusion that more than 154,000 affordable housing units are needed across the state. That's way more than what the consultant hired by municipalities had projected but fewer units than what housing advocates were pushing. 

    "This ruling is a victory for lower-income and minority families across New Jersey," said Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, which advocates for affordable homes and is a party in the case.

    "Judge Jacobson's decision will give opportunities for thousands of lower-income and minority families to move into safe neighborhoods, send their children to good schools, and work at jobs where they live instead of traveling hours commuting each day. The exclusionary policies that will fall as a result of this ruling harm our whole state, especially African American and Latino communities," Walsh added. 

    The battle over affordable housing requirements has stretched on years in the courts, after the state agency responsible for ensuring municipalities provide such options for low-income residents failed to do so.

    For 16 years, the Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH, failed to issue any directives to municipalities as the need for low- and moderate-income housing was left largely unmet, advocates said.

    Eventually the state Supreme Court intervened, ordering 15 judges across New Jersey to take over the process and decide how much towns -- in tandem with developers and builders -- need to provide in affordable housing. (Urban cities, which generally have more affordable housing options, are not part of the process.)

    Since then, more than 190 municipalities have reached settlements with housing advocates to avoid drawn-out court battles, settling on how many low- and moderate income units they'll provide through 2025. Another 100 municipalities have not settled their numbers.

    "This ruling sends a strong message to any town still seeking to exclude working families that they won't succeed," Walsh said. "While we are still examining the impact of this decision and disagree with some of the ruling, this decision is the latest development in a process that is laying the groundwork for tens of thousands of new homes to address New Jersey's housing affordability crisis."

    Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and Council President Jenny Crumiller said in a statement that they were glad a decision in the case had been reached "so that we can focus our time and dollars into creating opportunities for more affordable housing."

    They said the obligation number was expected. "We feel confident we will be able to present a plan to the court that meets that obligation, adds needed diversity, and energizes our local economy through smart growth planning," the statement said.

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook

     

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