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    Livingston High Schools senior named a Gold Medal Writing Portfolio winner.

     

    LIVINGSTON -- Livingston High School senior Kush Dhungana has been named a 2018 Gold Medal Writing Portfolio winner in the 95th annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, a yearly program that recognizes the artistic accomplishments of students in grades 7 through 12.

    The awards are presented to students for their work in 29 visual and literary arts categories that include editorial cartoon, poetry, graphic design, fashion, science fiction and video game design, that is judged on a regional and then a national level.

    The award is the program's highest national honor and brings with it a $10,000 scholarship.

    Dhungana is one of only 16 students, and the only student from New Jersey, to receive this year's award. He was recognized for his portfolio, "The Application Experience," which uses poetry, flash fiction and scripts to explore the ins and outs of the college application process.

    In addition to the scholarship, Dhungana's work will be displayed in the Art.Write.Now.2018 National Exhibition, a touring exhibit featuring selected work from the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards.

    He will be honored June 7 at a celebration taking place for the award winners at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

    To submit school news send an email to essex@starledger.com.


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    When it comes to our children's education, there are special interests in New Jersey who don't want us to have a choice.

    By Charles Love

    I am a native Newarker, a former employee of Newark Public Schools and a father with children who have attended both district and charter schools in Newark. 

    I have lived in Newark for a long time and have experienced both the highs and lows of the Newark education system both as a parent and as a student.

    I'm headed to Trenton to share my story with lawmakers because my son attends high school at Uncommon Schools North Star Academy, which was ranked last year by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 25 high schools in New Jersey. Eighty percent of North Star's graduates have either graduated from college or are on track to graduate from college.

    When you consider that compared to a college completion rate of fewer than 60 percent of the highest income Americans, you realize that a charter school like Uncommon Schools North Star Academy should be protected and celebrated, not threatened with a "pause."

    I am also a parent and school advocate. We need high quality schools all over the city and not just in parts of the community.

    I'm sure most of us would agree that having options is a good thing. We wouldn't be happy if we couldn't choose what restaurant to eat in, what stores to shop in, or what car to drive. Yet when it comes to our children's education, there are special interests in New Jersey who don't want us to have a choice.

    It wasn't always like that. When the legislature passed the charter school bill in 1996, it had support from both Democrats and Republicans and the teachers' union.

    But that began to change as more charter schools opened up. It is true that not every charter school was a homerun--but those that are sending kids to college at five times the rate of a typical urban public school should be valued.

    Instead of asking what are these schools doing right, the special interests looked for all kinds of reasons to explain away the results. They said charters weren't taking enough poor students, enough students who didn't speak English, enough special education students - all of which have been debunked.

    The special interests weren't from our community. But they really knew how to drive a wedge through our community. As charters grew, neighbors began to resent one another. We looked at parents who sent their children to a district or a charter school as an enemy. We showed up at school board meetings ready to rumble.

    What message were we sending to our children?

    We've come a long way since then. What us parents have come to realize is that we can't possibly help our children when we are shouting at each other. With local control coming to Newark's schools, we owe it to our community and our children to do better.

    For the last several years, parents in Newark have worked to build bridges.  Just like me, many parents have children in both charter and district schools.

    When I talk to other parents, I realize we all want the same thing - good public schools for our children, whether they are charter, district or magnet.

    Parents are the key to their children's education. In a city like Newark, we have lots of choices for our children.

    Many parents opt to send their children to neighborhood schools. Others choose a charter school. There's no right answer. It's whatever works for your family.

    Yes, we still have a long way to go before every child in Newark has access to an excellent education. But I know that we would be taking one giant step backwards if we were to limit a parent's ability to choose the right school for their child.

    Charles Love is resident of Newark and a father of three children who have attended both district and charter schools.

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


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    Highlighting the state's top players that are sure to make an impact this spring.


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    Which teams are early favorites for the hardware?


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    Facing up to four years in prison, a New Jersey longshoreman convicted of fraud in connection with a job where he was a frequent no-show, gets a big break from a judge.

    Longshoreman Paul Moe Sr. was hardly ever at work.

    The 66-year-old Port Elizabeth dockworker, who made $493,029 a year, was paid 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year--getting straight time, overtime and extra pay for holidays and weekends, authorities said.

    However, investigators from the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor said he couldn't be found on the waterfront many days, and frequently was out on his boat in Atlantic Highlands, at the movies, at home or on vacation in Aruba.

    Convicted of fraud and conspiracy in connection with the no-show job, he faced nearly four years in prison. But a federal judge in Newark on Monday, citing the ambiguity of the union contract and the failure of his own employer to take action against him, sentenced Moe to just 24 months in prison. U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden also allowed him to remain free on bail pending an appeal.

    Despite his conviction, Moe was steadfast in court maintaining that he had done nothing wrong. "I can look myself in the mirror and I know I'm innocent," he told the judge. "I never defrauded anyone."

    Moe, a former general foreman for APM Terminals in Port Elizabeth, said no one ever told him he actually had to be on site 40 hours a week to earn his pay package.

    "Why I'm standing here as a convicted felon is beyond me. They never informed me," he said.

    Moe, a member of the International Longshoremen's Association, was responsible for maintenance and repair of the terminal's container handling equipment.

    Paid at an hourly rate that came to nearly $500,000 a year, he was seldom at work, prosecutors said. With the help of colleagues, Moe routinely submitted false time sheets on his behalf, but was caught by investigators going fishing on his boat, having dinner with a girlfriend, and taking trips to Florida and Aruba, prosecutors said.

    He owned a Mercedes and a Porsche, but claimed his pay was set under the union's collective bargaining agreement, and that he had not done anything illegal.

    During testimony at trial, the U.S. Attorney's office said Moe was among a group of individuals with similar "special deals" that guaranteed 24/7 pay, and other salary and work practices. At trial, witnesses said theses deals have driven up costs at the port terminals in New York and New Jersey.

    In court on Monday, assistant U.S. attorney Tracey Anne Agnew urged the judge to impose a sentence of up to 46 months in prison.

    "The defendant defrauded his employer by obtaining wages and pension contributions to which he was not entitled," she said. "This happened every day, day in, and day out."

    Defense attorney Gerald McMahon argued during trial that Moe was not required to put in a 40-hour week to collect his full pay--only to be on call 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. McMahon said the longshoreman had never been told he had to be at the terminal and claimed he had been targeted by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor because of his friendship with ILA President Harold Daggett.

    "He had the sweetheart deal of the century and he did not know he had to be there 40 hours a week. And that's because for 15 years, nobody said he had to," McMahon told the court.

    The judge herself questioned whether there was ambiguity in the language of the union's collective bargaining agreement, as well as the conduct of Moe's employer. However, she added that those arguments "were played out to this jury that rejected them in finding that submitting false timesheets, Mr. Moe was breaking the law."

    However, she also noted Moe's age and the strong support of his family, agreeing to a significant sentencing downgrade to 24 months in prison.

    She ordered him to pay restitution of $749,000, while agreeing to allow him to remain free on bail pending an appeal.

    McMahon said he intends to appeal the conviction.

    Ted Sherman may be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @TedSherman.reporter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    They maintain freedom of religion, the right against self-incrimination, the right not to have soldiers quartered in their homes in wartime. So why deprive felons of the right to vote? Watch video

    Today, in a country with allegedly the finest justice system ever created by man, we choose to relegate 6.1 million Americans to second-class citizenship.

    We silence them, we revoke a fundamental birthright, and we deprive them of dignity. And we do it because of a cockeyed notion that a central tenet of democracy - that government rules with the consent of the governed - should not apply to people with a criminal record.

    That has been policy since 1844 in our state, where today 94,314 New Jerseyans cannot vote if they are serving a felony sentence. Disenfranchisement laws vary throughout the U.S., and some are less Draconian: There are 14 states that restore voting rights for those on parole or probation, including citadels of progressivism such as Indiana and Utah.

    But New Jersey is one of 18 states that re-enfranchise felons only after they have completed their sentences - that includes parole, probation, and prison - and now we have our best chance in 174 years to restore the most basic right of citizenship. 

    The opportunity contained within the bill introduced recently by Sens. Ron Rice, D-Essex, and Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, must not be squandered, and Gov. Murphy has signaled his consent to make New Jersey the third state to remove all voting restrictions for felons - even permitting prison inmates to cast ballots, as they do in Vermont and Maine.

    We concede that restoring voting rights for the 21,000 people currently incarcerated will be a tough sell and a hard debate, but let's start with the no-brainers.

    Restoring suffrage for felons is political. It's also right. | Editorial

    There are 73,000 felons in our state on probation or parole. Why do we exclude the 58,000 people on probation from the democratic process, when they have never even been in jail? And why do we deny full citizenship to the 15,000 parolees who have already paid their debts?

    Former state Attorney General John Farmer Jr. put it best: "The goal of correction," he says, "is hindered, if not completely frustrated, by taking away the most fundamental attribute of citizenship: the right to participate in self-governance."

    Some say felons have bad judgment, and that we don't want such people picking our representatives.

    Restore voting rights to non-violent ex-felons | Editorial

    We don't set up voting barriers for racists or other ill-informed yokels who probably do more damage to their community with their reprehensible ballot choices than somebody who did time for tampering with a lobster trap. 

    Some even suggest that felons could subvert laws that protect society if they vote as a bloc.

    While some may be tempted to vote for the God-Is-Dead-Anything-Goes Ticket, few DAs around the U.S. are elected on "pro-crime" platforms, and there is no evidence that big felon turnouts could alter the administration of criminal law.

    Nobody ever said that "no taxation without representation" should have a felony exception. If you are employed and settled in a community, you should have a voice in how your tax dollars are spent and who represents your interests. Anything less is a mockery of democratic values.

    Felon disenfranchisement, of course, is a morally repugnant link to our racist origins. It was borne of an obsession to thwart the popular will: The Southern states passed the Black Codes to deprive the freedman from voting after the Civil War, which meant they were routinely charged with crimes such as vagrancy and moral turpitude - behold, the South was redeemed - and that Jim Crow cudgel was replaced by certifiably racist drug laws.

    Today, in New Jersey, African-Americans comprise 15 percent of the population, yet they represent 50 percent of the disenfranchised. One law created this historic outrage, and that law can be changed. 

    prison-grafix.jpg
     

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

     

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    Walter Yovany-Gomez was charged with murder in aid of racketeering -- an offense eligible for the death penalty under federal criminal law.

    When police found Julio Matute's stabbed and beaten body, investigators said, it was so mangled that officers thought he had been shot with a shotgun.

    After almost four years on the run from law enforcement and after landing a spot on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, Walter Yovany-Gomez, an alleged MS-13 gang member accused of killing Matute in 2011, was arrested in Virginia in August.

    He was charged with murder in aid of racketeering -- an offense eligible for the death penalty under federal criminal law. But any jury that hears the case will not have to consider whether Gomez should be executed.

    That's because Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors not to seek the death penalty against Gomez, 31, according to a letter sent last week by the prosecutors to U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler in Newark.

    Prosecutors did not elaborate on the Justice Department's reasoning for not seeking the death penalty. Decisions about whether to pursue the death penalty in federal cases rely on a committee of government attorneys who make a recommendation to the attorney general.

    Although the death penalty was abolished at the state level in 2007, it remains a possible sentence for certain crimes at the federal level.

    Federal prosecutors in New Jersey have sought the death penalty just twice before. Ultimately neither man was sentenced to death.

    William Baskerville, a drug dealer convicted of ordering the killing of an FBI informant, was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 after the jury could not agree on whether he deserved to be executed.

    A judge in Newark in December ruled Farad Roland, the leader of a Bloods-affiliated drug-trafficking gang in Newark, ineligible to face the death penalty because of an intellectual disability. He later pleaded guilty under an agreement that will see prosecutors recommend a sentence of 45 years in federal prison.

    Gomez was one of 14 men indicted by a federal jury in 2013 under following an investigation targeting MS-13's activities in Plainfield. All 13 of his co-defendants have been convicted.

    Records show Chesler in February granted a continuance in any further proceedings in Gomez's case until the end of May, at the earliest. In his order granting the continuance, Chesler noted the prosecution and the defense were in negotiations about a possible plea agreement.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at tmoriarty@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    Which teams are set for big seasons?


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    Tahir Whitehead, a former West Side High School star from Newark, defied the odds with his NFL success.

    Tahir Whitehead gazed at the football collage on the wall leading to the fitness center at his alma mater in Newark.

    Staring back were pictures of him, each image displayed larger than the next. They show the linebacker's rise from high school to college to the NFL, all three frames of him in uniform.

    He was No. 4 for the West Side High School Roughriders a decade or so ago; then No. 2, with the Temple University Owls; and lastly, wearing No. 59, he roamed the field six years for the Detroit Lions. 

    Whitehead, 27, smiled, pausing to reflect as he stood in the narrow hallway looking at the pictures.

    "Walking into this building, the work that went into everything to get to this point. It's humbling, man. It's a blessing."

    He loved playing the game growing up, but never thought that his alma mater, his city, the Board of Education, Essex County and state officials would honor him.

    MORE: Recent Barry Carter columns  

    Tahir Whitehead Day on Friday was more than a ceremony to retire his jersey and have the school fitness center bear his name. This tribute showcased Whitehead as another jewel in Newark, who persevered and never forgot the city he loves.

    He grew up in a tough neighborhood beset with shootings, drugs and gang-life, dangers that could have written a different ending.

    But a strong single mother, Quadira Whitehead, kept him in line. As did his older brother, Quaheem Whitehead, a West Side High School football standout, who protected him from the streets. His football coaches, some who were police officers he admired, shielded him from negative elements, too.

    In Whitehead, they saw his talent and leadership ability. Both traits anchored West Side's defense and helped the school win its first state championship in 2007.

    Brian Logan, his head coach then, said Whitehead had an intangible quality that's hard to put into words.

    "You know when they say that somebody has 'it,' " Logan said.

    Whitehead had "it," and Logan knew he was going places because of a relentless work ethic.

    When he struggled academically in high school, Whitehead buckled down and was eligible to attend Temple, where he shined as a defensive player and most importantly as a student, graduating a semester early with a 3.0 grade point average and a criminal justice degree.

    In the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions must have seen what Logan did. He had the technique and skill to play in the league, courtesy of Tony Woods, his high school defensive coordinator, who played for three NFL teams in 10 years.

    Once he arrived, Whitehead would not be outworked, a value that kept him in the NFL beyond the average two-year career of most players.

    In six years with the Lions, Whitehead was on special teams first, then mastered three linebacker positions to earn a starting job. He led the team in tackles during the last three years, but his accomplishments get better.  Whitehead is on his third contract, having signed a three-year deal with the Oakland Raiders for $18 million.

    "I defied the odds," he said.

    It's the common thread in his life, held together with a never-give-up attitude he inherited from his mother.

    He looked at her from the podium Friday in the gymnasium, his voice cracking, tears filling his eyes.

    Whitehead said she showed him and his four siblings "that nothing will ever be given to you in this world. You gotta go out there and you gotta make it happen."

    She flicked away tears, too

    "I'm extremely proud of him," she would say later.

    The love spread to his brother, Quaheem, whom he called a "father figure," for motivating him to play the game.

    His eyes then turned to Shannon, his wife of five years, and mother of their three sons, ages 9, 3 and 1. He said she is his shining light, the woman who has helped him grow and develop.

    "Thank you, baby," he said, professing his love.

    That's what real men do, and she's honored to be his wife, saying: "He's the hardest working man I know," and that he's a blessing in her life.

    His heart beats just as strongly for Newark. Off the field, Whitehead puts the city on his shoulders, defending it against critics.

    It's a pact he made with himself. No one would belittle the town that raised him, nor would that person fashion a stereotype when they see him sharply dressed, articulate and dignified.

    This is how he drowns out societal noise that says Newark's young people will not amount to anything. He heard it as a kid, but never let the negative opinion become his reality.

    MORE CARTER: Newark police train to rebuild trust with residents | Carter

    The city's youth should not wear that label, either, he'd tell them during his many trips home when he's donated football cleats, uniforms and sponsored football camps. It's okay, he said, to be proud and to be from Newark.

    "Their perception is that you're supposed to get out of here and never come back," he said. "My mentality has always been that when I do make it, I have to come back."

    It's what he's been taught by his coaches, advice he also held onto from Marques-Aquil Lewis, the president of the board of education.

    "I told him to remember the people that was there for you," Lewis said. "Don't get big-headed."

    He never did. Just getting him to be honored Friday took a little cajoling from Lewis, who said Whitehead was ambivalent at first.

    Whitehead took the honor to inspire the youth, leaving them with pointed thoughts to consume. Approach each day with a purpose and show the world what Newark is about. Run your race and don't get distracted.

    "Keep your blinders on like a horse in horse race. Keep your eyes on what's in front of you and go get it."

    James Ricks, 15, was listening. He plays linebacker at West Side like Whitehead once did.

    "I'll take heed," he said, remembering Whitehead's most poignant phrase: "Never let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do."

    You shouldn't, young man. Tahir Whitehead never did.

    Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or bcarter@starledger.com or 

    nj.com/carter or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL


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    The fire started around 6:30 a.m. and quickly spread to multiple homes in the city

    Newark firefighters are battling a three-alarm blaze that has spread to three homes in the city early Tuesday.

    No one was hurt, Newark Director of Public Safety Anthony Ambrose said. 

    The fire started on South 9th Street around 6:30 a.m. and quickly escalated. Overhead images from abc7ny.com's showed heavy flames engulfing the roof as firefighters used a ladder truck to douse the blaze from above.

    Smoke from the blaze was visible for miles. 

    NJ Advance Media staff writer Jeff Goldman contributed to this report. 

    Matt Dowling may be reached at mdowling@njadvancemedia.com. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Can you guess who? Hint: It's in Montclair.


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    Who starts the season ranked in the Top 20? NJ.com takes a look.


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    A 21-year-old Jersey City man serving a sentence for five drug convictions went missing from a Newark halfway house today, officials said.

    james robinson.jpgJames Robinson, 21, of Jersey City, was serving a prison sentence for five drug offenses when he went missing from a Newark halfway house today, March 27, 2018.
     

    JERSEY CITY -- A 21-year-old Jersey City man serving a sentence for five drug convictions went missing from a Newark halfway house today, officials said.

    James Robinson was sentenced on all five offenses on Feb. 10, 2017 and is listed as having "escaped" from the halfway house on the New Jersey Department of Corrections website.

    Robinson was found guilty of possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of school property on Sept. 7, 2015 and on May 12, 2015. He was also found guilty of possessing drugs on Sept. 15, 2015, having drug paraphernalia on Feb. 10, 2017 and being under the influence of drugs on Oct. 29, 2014, corrections records indicate.

    His maximum release date is Jan. 4, 2020, but he is listed as becoming eligible for parole on April 9, 2019, corrections records say.

    Anyone with information on Robinson's whereabouts is asked to call the Department of Corrections Fugitive Unit at 800-523-3829.

     

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    Kathryn A. Foster is the 16th president of The College of New Jersey and starts her new job July 1.


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    Softball preview - here are the toughest pitchers to face heading into the new season


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    A mother of four filed a class-action suit over conditions in her building. Now her landlord has sold Pueblo City Apartments to a new owner.

    Fed up with the rats that ran across her children's room at all hours of the night and what she said was inaction from her landlord, Yanira Cortes took her grievances to court last year. 

    Her class-action lawsuit against the owners of the federally-subsidized building in Newark alleged a host of safety violations, infestations and neglect. Newly available records in the case show a mold assessor called Cortes' apartment a "mold war zone" and insisted -- back in October -- "the tenants vacate the property as soon as possible." 

    Five months later, Cortes remains in the building with her four young children.

    The landlord, however, is walking away: Pueblo City Apartments has been sold to a new owner. 

    Radiant Property Management, which manages other buildings in the city, will take over the site. A message left with Radiant at its Newark office was not returned on Monday. 

    Wayne Fox, who is listed as a partner for Pueblo City Housing Company 1-A, the original owner named in the suit, also did not return a call seeking comment on the sale.

    Paula Franzese, a law professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law, said the onus for addressing any safety violations would now fall on the new landlord.

    "The buyer steps into the shoes of the seller and is now liable for the deficiencies on site," she wrote in an email. "The new owner is no doubt aware of the pending lawsuit, and perhaps purchased at a reduced rate because of the premises' defects. Regardless, the current owner is responsible for remedying the problems complained of."

    Radiant Management, founded by Michael Wieder, is promising significant repairs, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which vetted the buyer. HUD spokeswoman Olga Alvarez said Radiant Management will have a 20-year contract with HUD to provide subsidized housing.

    In federally-subsidized apartments, like Pueblo City, tenants pay about 30 percent of rent and HUD pays the landlord the rest of the unit's fair market price.

    A serious 'human health concern'

    Cortes' complaint was amended last fall to include a 67-page mold inspection, prepared by a New York-licensed mold assessor from Environmental Health Consultants. The October report details high concentrations of black mold in the air and in all rooms of Cortes' apartment based on 21 samples, court filings show. 

    Black mold, the report said, "should never be seen in an indoor environment, nonetheless in the air." Black mold produces toxins that cause adverse health effects, according to the report.

    Other mold growth was also found inside the walls. "Mold has been there long enough to start forming roots," the report said, calling the apartment a "mold war zone" of serious "human health concern."

    When asked about the mold report, Alvarez said the agency did not find mold when its staff went to inspect. No samples were taken, Alvarez added, because no mold was found. 

    Radiant is considered an owner "in good standing" and its plans to rehabilitate the building would address any mold conditions, Alvarez said.  

    Cortes' fight for better housing conditions spurred efforts by state lawmakers last year to hold landlords accountable for decrepit living conditions. Former Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, and Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, proposed a bill last year to withhold subsidies from landlords when their buildings have safety violations. The bill languished in committee. 

    The class-action suit was first filed in September and extends to tenants who have lived there in the last six years. It asks a judge to grant rent abatements and put the building in receivership, which would appoint another party to oversee rehabilitation efforts.

    Cortes, 30, declined to comment, citing her ongoing case. Her attorney, Dennis Geier, also declined to comment to on the suit.

    "We believe in the case and in our efforts to restore habitable housing to our clients and others similarly situated," he said in an email. 

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


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    A $63 million bridge project is designed to end a frustrating Garden State Parkway bottleneck at I-280.

    It will cost $63 million and take four years but the approval of a Garden State Parkway bridge is good news for drivers, officials say.

    The new bridge will alleviate a chronic bottleneck for traffic going to and from I-280 that has frustrated motorists for years.

    Replacing the Central Avenue bridge over the Parkway in East Orange will add exit lanes to and from Exit 145 and increase safety by eliminating tolls in one direction.

    That will create a two-lane exit ramp from the north and southbound Parkway to I-280, said Robert Fischer, chief engineer.

    Now, exiting traffic backs up on to the Parkway, especially during rush hours. New Jersey Turnpike Authority commissioners approved a contract with George Harms Construction, Co., on Tuesday. Work could start as soon as mid-April, he said.

    The toll plaza will be demolished at the exit from the northbound Parkway and a $1 toll would be charged at the remaining plaza.

    Five other bridges will also be replaced as part of the project, Fischer said. The project was originally scheduled to be started in late 2014

    The toll plaza change was approved in December for safety reasons, because that exit ramp has the highest crash rate on the Parkway for rear-end accidents, said John O'Hern, interim executive director, in an earlier interview.

    O'Hern left the authority Tuesday for a job at NJ Transit and will be replaced by John Keller, deputy chief engineer of design. 

    Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    A Newark city ordinance offers additional reporting routes for city workers who have been victims of sexual harassment.

    In a momentous vote for New Jersey's largest city -- and a nod to women everywhere -- the Newark City Council on Tuesday approved adding further protections to public workers who are victims of sexual harassment.  

    The legislation, spearheaded by Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, prohibits sexual harassment of city employees by other municipal workers, management, union representatives, volunteers or vendors for the city. 

    It also creates an independent task force to investigate claims brought by Newark employees. The five-member panel will be appointed by the mayor and include a retired law enforcement officer who did not work in Newark, a clergy member, two members of the public who do not work for the city or its semi-autonomous agencies, and a member nominated by Rutgers University. 

    "For anyone to say that this ordinance is coming forward because it's political season, that's a lie," said Chaneyfield Jenkins, who is challenging Mayor Ras Baraka for his seat in May's elections. "This is not a political ploy, this is not a political gimmick, this is a convergence of history and time." 

    The #metoo movement has swept the country, with women coming forward revealing the men who have sexually abused and harassed them. It has taken Hollywood by storm and toppled lawmakers as well as leaders of prominent companies across the country. And now it's come to Newark. 

    On Tuesday, women lauded the sexual harassment measure, with some telling their harrowing stories of being harassed, and even raped. 

    "For so long we tell our women and our young girls, it doesn't happen here," said resident Natasha Levant, 42. "We were shunned, we were told we were liars, we were told it didn't happen, because we were scared of what we were going to face."

    "Enough is enough, the Me Too movement has come forward," Levant added. She asked women to stand with her and promised to stand with them. 

    Loud applause exploded in council chambers as more than a dozen women stood. 

    Janise Afolo, 63, grew emotional in the audience and was comforted by two women. She later told NJ Advance Media it made her remember a time "when no one was standing with me."

    Afolo said she wasn't planning on addressing the sexual harassment ordinance during public comment but decided to share her story of being raped when she was a sophomore in college. 

    "I have never shared my story with anyone, not even my closest friends," she said. "This is personal, because I am a victim of a rape. My virginity was taken by a man I did not love."

    Thomas Ellis, 58, also approached the council to describe his experience being sexually abused between the ages of five and 16. 

    "This is very personal for me," he said. "Men are sexually abused, men are sexually harassed. Women, you have the support of the men, but the men need to speak up."

    While the city already has a personnel policy forbidding sexual harassment, the ordinance bolsters enforcement, clearly prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace and any place where city-sponsored activities take place. It also allows city workers to report inappropriate behavior to the independent task force instead of going through the affirmative action officer, who is a city employee. 

    The ordinance passed unanimously and was praised by the council. Mayor Ras Baraka has also expressed support for the measure. 

    "Never again in the city of Newark will any employee feel neglected, abandoned or overlooked," Council President Mildred Crump said after the vote received cheers and applause from the crowd. 

    The ordinance also requires annual training on sexual harassment for all employees and city council members. Any sexual harassment settlements will be subject to the Open Public Records Law.

    The task force will also have legal counsel and any recommendations by the panel will be sent to the director of personnel who will make any disciplinary decisions. 

    "This ordinance is about protection," Chaneyfield Jenkins said. "The time was now."

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


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    Patients will pay less to register with the program, have more locations from which to buy their medicine, and encounter fewer bureaucratic obstacles when they enroll. Watch video

    Effectively immediately, doctors in New Jersey can recommend their patients use medical marijuana to treat anxiety, various forms of chronic pain, migraines and Tourette's syndrome.

    The conditions have been added under the first stage of a wide-ranging expansion of the medicinal marijuana program announced Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy .

    Patients will also pay less to register with the program, have more locations from which to buy their medicine, and encounter fewer bureaucratic obstacles when they enroll, Murphy said in a press conference in Trenton.

    "Patients should be treated as patients, not criminals. We will be guided by science," Murphy said. No more would patients be "failed by a system that has been prevented from delivering the compassionate care it promised nearly a decade ago." 

    Murphy said former Gov. Chris Christie imposed a stigma on the program by making it hard for patients to qualify and cultivators to operate. Christie inherited what he called a bad law, and resisted most requests to expand the program, more than once calling them a back-door to outright legalization.

    The immediate changes, contained in a 28-page report by Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal, expands the list of medical conditions based on an advisory panel's recommendation from October.

    Chronic pain affecting internal organs and the muscular and skeletal system is expected to draw thousands of patients and swell the program way beyonds its registry of 18,874 patients.

    The program will cut registration and renewal fees from $200 to $100 every two years, with senior citizens 65 and older and veterans added to the category of patients who pay only $20, according to the report. 

    Physicians must still recommend patients to the program but Murphy abolished the public registry, which deterred many from joining in fear of the stigma associated with what is still an illegal substance. There are just 536 physicians registered in a state with 28,000 doctors.

    Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith, a 36-year-old Flemington women with ALS, said at the news conference that she consumes cannabis products from the black market. She hasn't been able to join the program because she hasn't found a doctor willing to recommend her. That could change with the end of the required registry. 

    "My doctors have refused to help me find someone," she said with the aid of Jeremy Kopecky, her boyfriend. "I'm really excited about how (Murphy) is going to change the stigma." 

     Aubrey Conway, a 33-year-old registered patient from Sayreville, described  how cannabis helped her regain her energy and strength while living with a battery of conditions such as autoimmune diseases and intractable skeletal muscular spasticity.

    Conway said she abandoned the use of steroids and opioid pain killers, which made her feel worse, and researched marijuana. "Let me be clear: this was not an easy decision. I was concerned about how my children would react and how my usage would be perceived by others."

    "Medical marijuana saved my life," Conway said. "I hope it can save so many others." 

    Get ready for massive expansion of N.J.'s medical marijuana program

    Patients may not have to drive so far to get to a dispensary, which has long been a complaint. The state's five dispensaries in Montclair, Egg Harbor, Woodbridge, Cranbury and Bellmawr may apply to open satellite retail locations and add a new cultivation site. A sixth dispensary in Secaucus has not opened yet.

    Ken Wolski, the executive director of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, said he approved of the recommended changes to the state's program, but said he sees this as "just the beginning."

    His main concern: "Is supply going to be able to meet the demand?"

    Julio Valentin, CEO of Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair, said the proposed changes to New Jersey's medical marijuana program would allow him to serve "thousands more patients."

    "Altogether, I think it's a step in the right direction," Valentin said. "I think what helps everyone is that it opens up to more debilitating disabilities."

    Valentin and Greenleaf have already been planning an expansion of their current production facility, he said. The work should be done within two months and then he'd be ready to ramp up cannabis production, he added.

    Garden State Dispensary in Woodbridge has an additional 20,000 square feet in which it can boost production in its current facility, General Manager Aaron Epstein said recently.

    Compassionate Care Foundation of Egg Harbor also has room inside the 80,000 square-foot facility to double growth in 90 days, and "double it again in another 90 days," said David Knowlton, board president. 

    The Murphy administration will also license more companies to grow, cultivate and sell medicinal marijuana. Deputy Health Commissioner Jackie Cornell said she expects the process, from rule-making, to licensing, coinstruction and approval, to take a year.

    Murphy also announced he was elevating the program to its own division within the health department, and putting Jeffrey Brown, formerly of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a policy and consumer advocacy group, in charge as assistant commissioner.

    Murphy said he recommends legislators change the the law to allow patients to buy up to four ounces instead of two ounces a month, allowing hospice patients to buy an unlimited supply, and permitting adults to buy edible products, which Christie limited to just minors.

    Are you interested in the N.J. cannabis industry? Subscribe here for exclusive insider information from NJ Cannabis Insider.

    Payton Guion may be reached at PGuion@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @PaytonGuion. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

    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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    Where do you need to be on Opening Day?


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