Thursday, November 14, 2013


It doesn't look good for Montgomery County Republican County Chairman Bob Kerns.  The news broke last night that a grand jury may be investigating allegations that Kerns sexually assaulted a female associate last month:

"According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, MCRC Chairman Robert J. Kerns, partner in the Lansdale law firm Kerns, Pearlstine, Onorato & Hladik, LLP, allegedly got drunk the night after a major GOP power-broker dinner last month and sexually assaulted a female with whom he worked.  Rumors are also circulating that a grand jury is being convened and Kerns' law partner was subpoenaed.  'Somebody alleged that he was drinking and sexually assaulted her, and if he did, he ought to be arrested, tried and properly disciplined,' said the source." (Philadelphia Inquirer 12/13/13)

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty and it looks like a grand jury will sort this out to determine if charges should be filed against the GOP leader.  What has piqued our interest is that these accusations against the leader of Pennsylvania's second largest Republican County have landed before a grand jury.  

It has yet to be revealed if Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, a Republican, is leading the investigation before the grand jury.  It would be surprising if she were because of the obvious political conflict of interest for Ferman.  In situations where political links have been this close, District Attorneys almost always turn investigations over to the Pennsylvania Attorney General.  

Whether it is Ferman or Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane leading the investigation, one thing is clear.  A prosecutor is using a grand jury to investigate an important political figure for an alleged rape involving alcohol.  Witnesses are being put under oath and evidence is being gathered to put before an impartial group of citizens to determine whether or not there is probable cause to bring charges.

In contrast, recall the actions of then Attorney General Tom Corbett after an a nearly identical rape allegation landed in his lap in 2008 against Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, a Republican and close Corbett political ally.  (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 8/27/08)  The two cases are amazingly similar:

"The woman alleges that she drank with Higgins at the Carriage House restaurant at a Republican committee meeting before she met with him at his office a few miles away.  The woman claimed that she was highly intoxicated and could not remember anything that took place.  Higgins has maintained that the sex was consensual."  (Altoona Mirror 4/10/10)

Yet, unlike the apparent investigation of Kerns that will use an impartial grand jury to determine whether or not to bring charges, Corbett took it upon himself to decide whether or not to not bring charges against his political ally, personal friend, and campaign contributor. He didn't. (Altoona Mirror 2/27/2009)

When the alleged victim tried to appeal Corbett's decision, Corbett himself actively stood in the way of her appeal by refusing to turn over any of the investigative material to her.  Her appeal was so hampered that the judge ruled against her:

On Friday, [the woman's attorney] said there were 'several issues' with [the judge's] ruling, including being unable to see the investigation materials and not having a hearing to prove that Higgins and Corbett are 'good buddies.'  In addition, [the woman's attorney] said, there is probably cause to show that a crime did take place. 'If a victim says 'Mr. Higgins had sex with me' and she says 'I did not consent,' that's probable cause,' [the woman's attorney] said. 'This is not rocket science stuff.'" (Altoona Mirror 4/10/2010)

Corbett's repeated refusals to turn over any investigative materials to the woman spiked her appeal efforts throughout the process. (Braman v. Corbett 5/5/11) Eventually, Higgins was never charged with a crime. Not surprising given that at no point were the allegations against the Bedford County DA ever given an impartial hearing before a grand jury that required sworn testimony and some form of a written record.

Instead, Higgins' fate was decided by Corbett personally and behind closed doors.


Anonymous said...

And what about the Assistant District Attorney in Centre County who was sexually harassing a victim of domestic abuse? Why didn't AG Corbett prosecute that individual? In that particular case weren't there many text messages from the ADA to the victim trying to pressure her? And didn't that ADA have a history of sexual harassment in the workplace that was addressed by the Centre County HR department?

Anonymous said...

With Corbett, follow the money.

Anonymous said...

The Bedford thing reeks. Can Kane look into that?

bobguzzardi said...

These two cases are seem substantively different. The woman in the Higgins case says she does not remember what happened, that is, she does not remember if the sex was consensual or if she said "no". He says it was consensual. This is not even “He Said She Said”. It is He Said and she says: "I don't remember". In the Kerns case, there was a lot of physical evidence including evidence the woman was drugged.

“Ferman also gave credit to the victim for going to the hospital and contacting police shortly after the alleged incident.

“By going to the hospital as quickly as she did, we were able to gather critical forensic evidence. We were able to collect urine when Ambien was still in her system. Her going to the hospital as quickly as she did was a critical step,” she said.”