Montgomery County’s top prosecutor has dropped rape charges against a
local lawyer and former head of the county GOP, saying her office had botched the investigation by misrepresenting evidence in the case.
District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman announced Monday the nolle prosequi, or withdrawing of charges against Robert Kerns, an attorney from Lansdale who headed up the Montgomery County Republican Party for the past several years until his arrest late last year, which essentially forced his resignation.
Kerns was charged by county prosecutors on Nov. 26 with the rape of a colleague at his Lansdale law firm following an office party.
Ferman’s office lodged 19 counts against the 66-year-old, including rape, sexual assault and lying to investigators.
It was alleged that Kerns plied the woman with wine following a party and then took advantage of her while she was unconscious.
The problem, Ferman announced this week, was that her office had misread the lab report to say the woman had been drugged with the sleep aid Ambien, when, in fact, no trace of the sedative was actually found in the victim’s system.
“In the interest of justice, the right course of action – the only course of action in the interest of the fair administration of justice – is to nolle prosequi the charges against Mr. Kerns,” Ferman said in a statement. “While the admission of inaccurate information to the Grand Jury was unintentional, it regretfully happened. Upon discovering the issue, my office immediately took steps to investigate, acknowledge and take corrective actions in the matter.”
Ferman said her investigators initially believed a toxicology report stated that the drug Zolpidem, commonly known as Ambien, a sleep aid, was found in the victim’s system.
The investigator “incorrectly interpreted” the report as noting the drug’s presence, Ferman’s office stated.
“In fact, the proper conclusion was that the lab did not find any amount of the drug Zolpidem in the complainant at all,” reads a press release from the D.A.’s office. “Because grand jurors gave significant weight to the existence of the alleged drug evidence in its determination of whether to file charges and which charges to file, Ferman determined she was duty bound to withdraw the current charges.”
It was unclear whether or not the charges would be reinstated, but what is clear is that if Kerns is once again brought up on charges relating to the alleged rape, it would not be by Ferman’s office.
The district attorney said she has forwarded the case to the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane so as to avoid any potential conflict of interest from this point forward.
“The first responsibility of a prosecutor is to serve as a minster of justice,” Ferman said in her statement. “Prosecutorial integrity is the foundation for today’s course of action.”
In its news release, the district attorney’s office stated that Kane has “accepted the referral,” although it didn’t specify whether or not the attorney general would actually act on the matter.
Kerns has since publicly denied that he sexually assaulted the woman, who worked as his law firm, Kerns, Pearlstine, Onorato and Hladnik.
When Ferman made her announcement this week, Kerns had already been free on $1 million bail.