Citing Kerns fiasco, Montco DA to detail changes

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Robert J. Kerns (left) stands by as his lawyer, Brian J. McMonagle, talks about having the most serious charges against Kerns dismissed. (Carolyn Davis/Staff)

Seven months after missteps led her to drop rape charges against a prominent Republican Party official, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is restructuring her office and partnering with a national research center devoted to evaluating problems in the justice system and improving the integrity of investigations.

The changes, which Ferman will announce at a news conference Wednesday in Norristown, will be aimed at improving the office's professional standards. The restructuring will include the creation of new positions in her office, according to a statement it released.

Ferman will discuss the partnership between her office and the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. John Hollway, the center's executive director, will also speak.

The Quattrone Center is an independent policy organization that reviews problems in the criminal justice system and assesses how to improve the integrity of investigations and convictions.

The changes grew out of her office's handling of the case against former Montgomery County Republican Chairman Robert J. Kerns, who was charged last fall with drugging and assaulting a woman who worked in his law firm.

The case collapsed after it emerged that county investigators had misread a lab report and mistakenly concluded that the accuser had been drugged with a sleeping pill.

Ferman withdrew the charges but said she stood by the rape accusations and referred the case to the office of Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, which re-filed rape and assault counts against Kerns.

In June a magisterial district judge threw out the rape and sexual assault charges, leaving charges of aggravated indecent assault, aggravated assault and simple assault. The case is scheduled for trial next month.

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