A magisterial district judge has ruled that attorney and former Montgomery County GOP Chairman Robert J. Kerns will have to answer all 19 charges against him, including counts of rape and indecent sexual assault, in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
Chester County Senior Magisterial District Judge Susann Welsh determined at Kerns’ preliminary hearing Friday that the 19 charges against him, stemming from the alleged rape of a female employee of his law firm, will stand. An arraignment at the common pleas level is currently set for Jan. 29.
“The commonwealth has shown prima facie evidence on all charges,” Welsh concluded.
Two individuals testified at the hearing, Kerns’ accuser and police detective Lt. Christopher Kuklentz, the arresting officer. Kerns did not testify nor did he make any comment during the hearing.
Kerns is charged with 19 criminal counts that stem from an alleged incident Oct. 25. They include rape of an unconscious victim, rape of an impaired person, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, possession of a controlled substance, possession with the intent to manufacture or deliver and tampering with/fabricating physical evidence, according to the docket.
Art Heinz, spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said a request for a senior district judge outside of Montgomery County came to the AOPC from Montgomery County President Judge William J. Furber Jr.’s office Dec. 4 and was approved by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille on Dec. 12.
Heinz said the request from the county “was made in light of the countywide nature of Mr. Kerns’ prior position” and that the judge formerly assigned to the hearing, Magisterial District Judge Robert M. Sobeck, recused himself due to a conflict of interest.
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Samantha Louise Root Cauffman handled the prosecution in the case while Kerns was defended by Brian McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak. McMonagle declined to comment Friday.
During the hearing, the alleged victim testified that Kerns offered her a ride to the King of Prussia Mall after a work-related party at a restaurant. Once in Kerns’ car, the woman said, Kerns offered her a drink from a wine bottle in a bag located on the floor, leaning against the console of the vehicle.
The woman said Kerns “asked me if I was happy at the firm and I said I was.” She added that Kerns handed her a $100 bill and said the firm was “very happy with her and that if she came back from time to time there would be more where that came from.” The woman said that she poured the wine from the bottle into two glasses, drinking from one.
The woman testified that she did not see Kerns drink from his glass.
Kerns then drove the alleged victim to the parking lot of the Nordstrom department store at the King of Prussia Mall. The woman said she could not remember the entirety of the trip because she was “pretty out of it” and “groggy.”
The prosecution said the wine was spiked with Ambien, which the alleged victim did not knowingly ingest.
The alleged victim told the court she remembered her head being up against the window of the car and pushing Kerns away.
The pair proceeded to the woman’s home where she was helped inside by Kerns, she said. She came out of the bathroom and collapsed onto the bed, at which time, the woman indicated, Kerns took off her pants and underwear and began touching her buttocks.
The alleged victim said she did not consent to that contact, but added she did not have the power to force Kerns to stop. The following morning, the woman said, she felt pain and discovered she had bruising and scratch marks on her inner thigh and vagina accompanied by bite marks on her breast and a sore back.
On cross-examination, McMonagle, in addition to asking the alleged victim to recount what she could about the ride back to her home, asked if she said anything to Kerns while he was allegedly undressing her.
The alleged victim responded that she didn’t say anything because she couldn’t.
After the accuser completed her testimony, Kuklentz took the stand.
The police detective testified that a urinalysis revealed that the woman had traces of Ambien in her system. He also read from an interview transcript in which he questioned Kerns about the alleged incident.
Kuklentz mentioned that during the interview Kerns was perspiring and had “beads of sweat on his forehead.” Kuklentz also said that after the interview, he pressed Kerns to tell him the truth “and asked him what went wrong that night. He said he had to think about it,” Kuklentz told the court.
A vacuum swab of the victim’s clothing showed a single “male DNA profile consistent with the defendant’s,” Kuklentz said.
Kuklentz said additionally that “I confronted [Kerns] and asked how he would explain if his DNA was found on [the alleged victim's] undergarments. He said his hands could have slipped under her garments” and made contact with the alleged victim.
McMonagle asked Kuklentz if the DNA testing done on the alleged victim and her clothing revealed any semen. Kuklentz said the tests did not.