Montco GOP Chair Steps Down Amid Assault Allegations
Montgomery County GOP chairman and law firm founder Robert J. Kerns stepped down from his political post amid several media reports last week that he allegedly sexually assaulted an employee of his law firm.
As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear whether Kerns' positions as solicitor to several Montgomery County municipalities would be in jeopardy as well, with at least one of those positions ending. And the website for his Upper Gwynedd, Pa.-based firm, Kerns, Pearlstine, Onorato & Hladik, remained "under construction."
According to numerous media reports from news outlets including the Philadelphia Daily News and NBC10 as well as sources who spoke to The Legal, Kerns is being investigated by the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office for an Oct. 25 incident in which he allegedly assaulted a woman in his car after a party. Media reports have said Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Brian McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mischak is representing Kerns. He did not return a call for comment though The Philadelphia Inquirer reported McMonagle confirmed he was representing Kerns in a criminal matter. No charges were filed against Kerns as of press time Friday.
Sources who spoke to The Legal echoed media reports that a grand jury is investigating the matter with one source saying subpoenas have been issued. The District Attorney's Office did not return a request for comment by press time Friday.
Kerns was elected chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party in 2008 and re-elected in 2010. In addition to his party involvement, Kerns also spent a portion of his practice as solicitor to Upper Gwynedd Township, West Norriton Township and the Borough of Trappe.
On Friday morning, an assistant with the West Norriton Township manager's office said Kerns was at that time still the town's solicitor. She called back later in the afternoon to say that Kerns was no longer the solicitor. She declined to comment further other than to say no one else had yet been named to the post.
When asked whether Kerns would continue to serve as Upper Gwynedd Township's solicitor, Assistant Township Manager Michael Lapinski said the township would have no comment. When asked if he could confirm Kerns was currently the solicitor, he said the township would not comment one way or another. A call to the Borough of Trappe was not returned.
According to a prior version of his website bio, Kerns is a Conshohocken, Pa., native who graduated from Villanova University School of Law. He is married with three adult sons. His practice has focused on municipal law, real estate, zoning matters, commercial land development, condemnation and litigation as well as medical malpractice. Aside from the three solicitorships he has most recently held, Kerns was previously solicitor for several other townships and Montgomery County.
According to an early version of its website, Kerns Pearlstine has 11 attorneys and focuses its practice on municipal law, mortgage foreclosure, personal injury, family law, and wills and estates.
Kerns' resignation as chairman of the Montgomery County GOP comes just weeks after the long-fractured party showed glimmers of hope when the heads of two feuding factions agreed to reconcile for the good of the party in an effort to combat the rise of the Democratic Party in the long Republican-controlled county. The incident has left some ruing its timing.
"Most people are not at all convinced that a crime was committed," said attorney Michael Adler, a Republican committeeman in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County. "It's a mess. I'm disappointed. We don't need this. We have a governor to elect. We have party unity now and then this happened."
Adler said the grand jury investigating the matter has to decide what happened.
Another person involved in Montgomery County politics said it just so happened Kerns presided over the party during the "death throes" of the party, which saw its county power recede to Democrats ever since President Obama's first run in 2008. The party's problems weren't necessarily related to any management style of Kerns, the politico said.
But the fact that the investigation into the allegations against him went public is a testament to the party's fractured state and perceived diminished power, the source said.
"I'm not sure the woman comes forward 10 years ago," the source said of the complainant against Kerns. The source said the party would have somehow resolved the situation privately or the woman would have been too scared of the party's power to have reported the alleged incident. The source said he found the timing of the allegations "curious."
A call to Kerns' law firm was not returned.