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State Supreme Court Tosses Sex Assault Charges Against Paramus Catholic Employees

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state cannot prosecute two high school employees for sexual assaults on students alleged to have occurred during a class trip to Germany.

Artur Sopel and Michael Sumulikoski were charged with a total of 25 counts, including sexual assault and child endangerment. The 2011 trip involved students from Paramus Catholic High School. Sopel was vice president of operations at the school and Sumulikoski was a substitute teacher and assistant football coach.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, the case has been a cloud over Paramus Catholic for almost four years.

The men sought to dismiss the sexual assault and endangerment charges, arguing New Jersey didn't have jurisdiction since the alleged acts occurred in Germany. A judge denied the motion, and an appeals court upheld that ruling. Both held that New Jersey retained jurisdiction because the men had assumed supervisory and disciplinary control over the students while in New Jersey.

Wednesday's 6-0 Supreme Court ruling, with one justice not participating, dismissed 14 of the 25 counts against the two. The justices rejected the lower courts' reasoning that having disciplinary power over a victim constitutes conduct that is a material element of the crime.

``All of the acts of sexual misconduct allegedly occurred in Germany; the State does not allege that defendants took any preparatory steps in that regard in New Jersey,'' the justices wrote. ``To establish jurisdiction, the State instead relies solely on the fact that defendants had supervisory or disciplinary power over the students _ a circumstance or status that does not satisfy the territorial jurisdiction statute.''

Still, local residents were not pleased with the ruling.

"I believe they should be charged even though it's overseas," Leslie Liz said.

"I certainly don't agree they should go scot-free, but I don't know how to change it without changing the law," Barry Miller said.

"We are here to seek justice for these young women, and it's a shame we are not pursuing it," Ken Eng added.

The justices said they understood that the decision might be unsettling for some, but made a unanimous decision in a court that is often split.

"Merely being a chaperone is a status, not an act. The acts that have been complained of all allegedly occurred, not only outside the borders of New Jersey, but outside the borders of the United States," Defense Attorney, Alan Zegas said.

The decision means Sumolikoski is off the hook.

Sopel still faces 11 counts related to alleged offenses committed in Bergen County, including endangering and witness tampering.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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