Kerns resigns from Legislature

CONCORD (AP) – A 23-year-old state representative who faced possible expulsion from the Legislature resigned Thursday rather than defend himself against charges he abused his office.

Bedford Rep. John Kerns submitted a two-sentence letter that was read on the House floor and was met by applause.

“I’m very sad to leave the House. I really feel that I belong there,” Kerns said afterward.

Kerns faced three ethics charges against him: passing a bad check with “State of New Hampshire” written on it; using his title to get a parking spot reserved for school officials; and threatening them when told to stop parking there.

He also faced four criminal charges of passing bad checks.

“It was a good resolution to a tough situation for everyone involved,” said House Speaker Gene Chandler. “I think it was in his best interest, certainly. It was the first admission he needs to look at his situation.”

Kerns claimed he has a medical condition that caused his behavior, but never provided documentation to prove it.

The legislative Ethics Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that the House expel him. The House scheduled a vote on the recommendation March 13.

If the House had agreed, Kerns would have been the first representative to be expelled since 1913.

Committee members said Kerns’ refusal to take responsibility for his actions weighed heavily in their decision. They noted in their report to legislative leaders that he had demonstrated no remorse for his inappropriate conduct, failed to acknowledge that his acts reflected negatively on the Legislature and provided no assurance he would refrain from the behavior in the future.

Kerns had asked a judge last week to suspend the proceedings. He repeatedly has said he is undergoing treatment for a serious neurological illness. He also said he would ask the Legislature for an indefinite leave of absence, but did not follow through.

The committee tried to resolve the issue informally with Kerns, but Kerns did not show up at any committee meetings or at last week’s hearing into the charges against him.

In its report, the committee acknowledged the seriousness of the situation.

“Removal from an elected position is a punishment to be administered only in the most egregious circumstances,” the committee said.

“Indeed, no one has been removed in such a manner from the New Hampshire House since 1913. But, the conduct of Representative Kerns warrants such an action, not simply because he has abused the trust placed in him by the public, but because he apparently believes that he is entitled to engage in such misconduct.”

Clifford Snow of Manchester was the last lawmaker expelled from the House. He was charged with taking bribes in exchange for votes.

In 1998, the House voted to censure Rep. Roland Hemon, a Democrat from Dover, for repeatedly filing legislation to impeach the judge that handled his mother’s probate case.

Kerns, a University of New Hampshire student, also faces criminal charges of passing four bad checks in Dover. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison.