Robert Kerns (Photo provided by Attorney General’s Office)
Montgomery County attorney Robert Kerns, 66, has been charged again for rape and related offenses, this time by the state Attorney General’s Office, which was referred the case when misinterpreted lab reports forced the county District Attorney’s Office to drop similar charges related to the same offense.
Kerns has been accused of raping and sexually assaulting a female paralegal who worked at his law firm after a firm event in October 2013, the Attorney General’s Office said in announcing a criminal complaint was filed against Kerns on Friday.
Kerns, former head of the county Republican Party, had initially been charged by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. Given Kerns’ political ties to the county and the fact that the District Attorney’s Office is an elected position, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman referred the case last year to the Attorney General’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 last month. “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 Attorney General Kathleen Kane to determine if charges could be refiled by Kane’s office.
In the complaint filed Friday by Kane’s office, the 19 charges Kerns once faced have been reduced to eight, but still include rape of an unconscious victim, sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault in which the victim was unaware penetration was occurring, according to the docket filed in the Montgomery County Magisterial District Court.
The case is set to be prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye of the Office of Attorney General’s criminal prosecutions section.
Kerns’ attorney, Brian J. McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak in Philadelphia, did not return a call seeking comment.
“I am just greatly relieved that we were able to discover that a terrible mistake had been made, and were able to put an end to this and get Bob his life back,” McMonagle had said last month when charges were dropped.
McMonagle had said he contacted the District Attorney’s Office as soon as the defense’s investigation had uncovered the mistake, and that the district attorney immediately took action to “right in my mind what was a terrible wrong.”
According to the criminal complaint, a special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in the Attorney General’s Office took over the investigation in March 2014. 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 the 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. 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.
When interviewed by detectives Nov. 5, Kerns admitted to buying the wine and having some in his car. He said he drove to the mall and parked in the parking lot for a few hours. Kerns said the alleged victim threw up in the front seat and he moved her to the back seat of his car. He said he then drove the woman home and escorted her inside to her bedroom, according to the court filing.
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.
On Nov. 5, J.C., a mutual friend of Kerns and the accuser, consented to record a phone call with Kerns. J.C. told Kerns she received a call from the alleged victim and asked if something sexual happened between the two of them. Kerns said “‘absolutely nothing happened,’” according to the court filing.
In another conversation Nov. 6, J.C. told Kerns the alleged victim was sure Kerns assaulted her. Kerns allegedly replied, according to the affidavit, “‘that I assaulted her … that I had sex with her … huh … OK, well I sure don’t have any recollection of that, period.’”
When J.C. told Kerns the alleged victim indicated she had injuries consistent with rape and that the evidence was pretty strong, Kerns allegedly replied “‘if it is, it is … you know, that’s why I got McMonagle,’” according to the affidavit. Toward the end of the conversation, according to the court filing, Kerns said “‘stupid decisions lead to stupid results.’”