The dropped charges against a former Pennsylvania GOP chair who was accused of rape have inspired changes in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.
Former Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Robert Kerns, 67, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a party in October of last year.
Last March, rape and sexual assault charges against Kerns were dropped however after it was discovered a drug test on the woman was misinterpreted.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman said an investigator from her office misinterpreted laboratory evidence and erroneously concluded the accuser had the sleep aid drug Zolpidem, also known as Ambien, in her system during the alleged attack.
According to Ferman, the lab didn't detect any amount of the drug in the accuser. Because the county investigating grand jury that recommended the charges against Kerns gave "significant weight'' to that inaccurate information, Ferman was forced to withdraw the charges.
The mistake inspired Ferman to partner with the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. They conducted a six-month-long independent review of her office’s policies and procedures.
On Wednesday, Ferman announced the results of the review as well as new changes to her office.
“If we were to get a report from a lab perhaps that we were unfamiliar with, that should trigger a double check, another kind of verification, there has to be a searching inquiry for anything at all that’s unfamiliar,” Ferman said.
According to Ferman, there will be a new violent crime and technology unit within the Montgomery County Detectives Bureau. She also announced two new staff positions would be created. The first position will be directly responsible for independent reviews of evidence and cases in the trials division. The other position will be an ombudsman responsible for addressing the concerns from the public and office.
“We have to look at where we’re getting the information,” Ferman said. “If we’re getting information from outside of our typical chain of gathering information or evidence, we need to look at that. We need to look at where the person who is giving you information received it from and if they potentially misunderstood something.”
While Ferman withdrew the charges, the case was referred to the Attorney General’s Office which re-filed the rape and assault counts against Kerns.
In June, a district judge dismissed the rape and sexual assault charges while holding the aggravated assault and indecent assault charges. Kerns is scheduled to go on trial in November.