Montco GOP chair resigns amid reports of sex-assault probe

Posted: November 16, 2013

NORRISTOWN Robert J. Kerns resigned Thursday as chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Committee amid what sources say is an investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted a female employee at his law firm.

In a letter to committee members, Kerns said his resignation was effective as of 5 p.m. He called for the party to hold a special meeting Dec. 4 to fill his spot.

Sources familiar with the investigation said a woman who works at Kerns' law firm in Lansdale accused him of sexually assaulting her in his car after an Oct. 25 party.

No charges have been filed. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman has declined to confirm or deny any investigation.

Kerns has not responded to calls and e-mails for comment. His lawyer, Brian McMonagle, confirmed Wednesday that he represented Kerns in a criminal matter, but would not elaborate.

In a statement Thursday, the committee said it would have no comment on "a possible criminal investigation of Mr. Kerns unrelated to his duties as chairman."

State Rep. Mike Vereb said he would seek Kerns' post. Vereb said area party leaders urged him to run for the seat.

The day before the alleged assault, Vereb, Gov. Corbett, Kerns, and other prominent Republicans had attended the party's annual reception, where state power broker Bob Asher and Vahan Gureghian, a major party donor from Gladwyne, agreed to bury the hatchet and join forces for county fund-raising.

It was hailed as a new era of unity in county Republican politics.

Vereb on Thursday cited his role in helping to bring that partnership about and said he wanted to continue to mend the rift.

"It's a busy job," he said of the chairmanship, "but the only way I am going to be able to do that job effectively is bringing people together to work as a group. The path to unity is to take away the No. 1 enemy against us, and that is our split. I am willing and able to continue to forge relationships amongst people in our party."

Until a new chair is elected, Vice Chair Sharon Valentine Thomas will fill the position. Thomas reclaimed her former role as mayor of Pottstown in this month's election. She has not returned calls for comment.

Kerns, 66, a partner in the firm of Kerns, Pearlstine, Onorato & Hladik, is married with three adult children. He is also the solicitor for Upper Gwynedd, West Norriton, and Trappe, and the Police Chiefs Association of Montgomery County.

Robert Griffith, the county GOP treasurer, said it was "way too early to speculate" on whom the new chairman would be. "It was so sudden," he said. "It takes a while to organize."

Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr., the county's highest-ranking elected Republican, who in recent years had fallen out with Kerns, said it was "another sad day for the Montgomery County Republican Committee," but urged people "not to speculate, and let law enforcement do their work."

"This organization is bigger than one man," Castor said by e-mail Thursday evening, "and we will continue to pick up the pieces of our fractured party."


jparks@philly.com

610-313-8117 @JS_Parks

www.inquirer.com/MontcoMemo

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