Robert Kerns (Photo provided by Attorney General’s Office)
Rape and sexual-assault charges against lawyer Robert Kerns have been dropped for the second time. However, the former Montgomery County Republican Party leader is still set to return to court on other charges.
Retired York County Magisterial District Judge Joann L. Teyral made her decision after reviewing the record and said at a preliminary hearing Wednesday that Kerns would go to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas on July 30 for an arraignment on the six remaining charges against him: three counts of aggravated indecent assault, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of simple assault.
Teyral also ordered that Kerns’ ankle bracelet be removed with the stipulation that he continue to avoid contact with the alleged victim.
Kerns’ hearing lasted roughly five minutes, but attorneys consulted with the judge in her chambers at length prior to the hearing. Kerns remained silent and expressionless for the duration of the hearing.
Despite Teyral’s decision to exclude the rape charges against Kerns, state Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye told media outside of the courtroom that the prosecution was satisfied with the results of the hearing.
“We’re very pleased with the court’s ruling,” Dye said. “It allows us to take the strongest charges in.”
Dye added that an aggravated assault charge carries a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment.
Kerns’ attorney, Brian McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak, told reporters that he and his client were “very happy the rape and sexual-assault charges were dismissed today.”
McMonagle said the judge recognized that there was not enough evidence to support the rape and sexual-assault charges and that she made the right call. He further maintained that no crime was committed and that his client looks forward to having “his good name restored.”
Kerns had been accused of raping and sexually assaulting a female paralegal who worked at his law firm after a firm event in October 2013, and was initially charged by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
Given Kerns’ political ties to the county and the fact that the district attorney holds an elected position, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman referred the case last year to Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office. Ferman said at the time that she didn’t think there was an actual conflict but wanted to offer the Attorney General’s Office a chance to take on the case to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
The Attorney General’s Office declined to take the case at that time, saying its hands were tied given Ferman said there was no actual conflict.
But in March, Ferman’s office dismissed the charges against Kerns when his defense team discovered that lab reports the office had said showed the victim had the generic version of the drug Ambien in her system in fact showed she had none.
Kerns was accused of drugging and assaulting the alleged victim. The charges against him included rape of an unconscious victim, rape of an impaired person, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, possession of a controlled substance and possession with the intent to manufacture or deliver, according to the docket.
“At issue is the lab analysis of the report, which appeared to indicate an identifiable value related to the presence of the drug zolpidem,” Ferman said in March. “The investigator incorrectly interpreted that value as meaning that the lab discovered trace amounts of the drug in the complainant’s system. In fact, the proper conclusion was that the lab did not find any amount of the drug zolpidem in the complainant at all.”
Ferman then referred the case to Kane to determine if charges could be refiled and the Attorney General’s Office subsequently accepted the case.
In the criminal complaint filed by Kane’s office, the 19 charges Kerns once faced were reduced to eight. Those charges included rape, sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault, among others.
According to the complaint, a special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in the Attorney General’s Office took over the investigation in March. The agent reviewed the documents in the case and interviewed the Montgomery County detective who had originally investigated the reports.
According to the agent’s affidavit of probable cause attached to the criminal complaint, on Oct. 25, 2013, Kerns decided to close his firm—Kerns Pearlstine Onorato and Hladik—early to celebrate a colleague passing the bar. The office was invited to a restaurant for a celebration, at which the alleged victim said she had one-and-a-half glasses of wine and two limoncello shots that Kerns bought.
The woman said she wanted to go shopping at the mall, but was afraid to drive. Kerns offered to take her in his car. When in Kerns’ car, the woman said Kerns had her pour wine into two glasses that he had in the car. She said she remembered drinking some of it but doesn’t remember Kerns drinking any, according to the affidavit.
The alleged victim said she went from feeling buzzed to feeling “‘out of it.’” She said she remembered Kerns taking her home and going into her bedroom and that Kerns took off her pants and underwear without her consent. She said she felt incapacitated and lacked the ability to resist, according to the affidavit. Kerns left the house a few minutes later.
When she awoke on the morning of Oct. 26, the accuser said she found dried vomit on her clothes and that she was not wearing pants or underwear. She said there was blood on her underwear and she remembered her head being pressed against a car window and pushing Kerns away, according to the affidavit.
The woman said she had bruises and finger marks on the inside of her left thigh, scratch marks on both thighs, vaginal soreness and pain in her spine and shoulder blades, according to the affidavit. The woman received a sexual-assault examination on the morning of Oct. 27. The examiner documented injuries to the woman’s breast, inner thighs, outer thigh, outer vaginal area, vaginal walls, cervix and vagina, according to the affidavit.
The woman reported the alleged incident to the police Oct. 31.
Kerns denied any sexual contact occurred and said the woman could have been hurt when she fell out of his car while he was moving her to the back seat. When asked how his DNA would have been found on the alleged victim’s underwear, Kerns said his hand may have slid under her clothing when he was moving her, according to the affidavit.