Kerns ordered to trial in rape case

Robert Kerns, former head of the Republican Party in Montgomery County, is accused of drugging and raping a woman after an office party in October. He has denied the charges.
Robert Kerns, former head of the Republican Party in Montgomery County, is accused of drugging and raping a woman after an office party in October. He has denied the charges. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 22, 2013

BLUE BELL A Montgomery County woman testified in detail Friday about how former county Republican Chairman Robert Kerns allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted her after an office party this fall.

During a hearing in a packed district courtroom in Blue Bell, the woman looked at Kerns only when asked to point out her attacker. Kerns, dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and tie, sat expressionless next to his lawyer, looking away from the woman for the most part, as she told of a night that she said began with coworkers celebrating and ended with Kerns in her bedroom, removing her pants and underwear and touching her.

"The facts alleged in this case demonstrate a violent rape of a defenseless woman," prosecutor Samantha L.R. Cauffman said after a visiting judge sent the case to Common Pleas Court. "My concern at this point is making sure the victim stays strong and is protected from the defendant."

Prosecutors called the woman as their central witness as they asked a judge to hold the charges against Kerns for a trial in County Court. Chester County Senior District Judge Susann E. Welsh ordered Kerns to be arraigned next month.

The 52-year-old former employee at the Lansdale law firm Kerns recently left said during the hearing that she lost consciousness soon after getting in Kerns' Mercedes-Benz after the late October party at a Blue Bell restaurant.

During cross-examination, defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle questioned her memories of the evening and suggested that there was no evidence Kerns had raped her.

Kerns was charged Nov. 26 with drugging the woman and raping her while she was unconscious. He faces 19 counts, including rape, sexual assault, tampering with evidence, and lying to authorities. Through McMonagle, Kerns has denied the accusations.

When testimony from the woman and a county detective was finished, McMonagle asked that rape and other charges be dismissed. The judge denied the request.

Kerns and his lawyer declined to comment after the proceeding.

The charges followed a 23-page report from a Montgomery County grand jury that looked at the allegations.

The grand jury said Kerns planned the assault after hearing the woman say at the party that she might have drunk too much alcohol to get behind the wheel of her car.

"I wasn't drunk, but I had a bit of a buzz," the woman said in answer to Cauffman's questions.

The woman testified that Kerns offered her a ride and during the drive, gave her wine laced with the sleep drug Ambien. He is accused of raping her while they were in his car and sexually assaulting her a second time at her home.

Though mostly unconscious during the attack in Kerns' car, she said Friday, she does have a "dreamlike" recollection of being pressed against the inside door and trying to push Kerns away.

She remembers more clearly Kerns parking in her driveway and helping her upstairs to her bedroom, she said, then of collapsing on her bed with Kerns fondling her.

"I knew it was happening, but it was like I had no wherewithal to do anything about it," she said.

Her pants and underwear were off, though she said she did not remember removing them.

The woman testified for more than 30 minutes at the hearing. At one point as she described the alleged attack, Kerns' cellphone buzzed.

"Excuse me, your honor," he said, reaching into his pocket.

The case was first assigned to a Montgomery County district judge, Robert M. Sobeck, who asked to be recused. The state then appointed Welsh.

Kerns led the county Republican Party for five years until his resignation in November.

His law firm at the time of the incident was Kerns, Pearlstine, Onorato & Hladik. The firm is now known as Hladik, Onorato & Pearlstine.


cdavis@phillynews.com610-33-8109

@carolyntweets

www.inquirer.com/montcomemo

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