Panel advises expelling legislator
CONCORD – An ethics panel recommended expulsion for Republican Rep. John Kerns of Bedford on Wednesday, finding that he abused his office trying to keep a parking space and by writing checks bearing “State of New Hampshire’’ on them.
The Legislative Ethics Committee noted in its ruling that Kerns would become the first lawmaker forcefully driven from the 400-person House of Representatives since 1913.
“But the conduct of Representative Kerns warrants such an action, not simply because he abused the trust placed in him by the public, but because he apparently believes that he is entitled to engage in such misconduct,’’ the committee wrote in its three-page report.
“After thorough consideration, the committee recommends the expulsion of John Edward Kerns from the House of Representatives.’’
Kerns, 23, who said he intends to address the House today, has no intentions of resigning and will seek re-election to a second term this fall.
“I’m not surprised that was the decision they were going to reach. I thought it would either be censure or expulsion,’’ Kerns said during a telephone interview Wednesday.
Any legislator can request a personal privilege to address the House at the conclusion of each session’s business.
Kerns said the committee never considered his claim that he suffers from a neurological condition he has compared to Parkinson’s disease that causes short-term memory loss.
“There is a difference between holding someone accountable for what they are in control of and holding them accountable for something over which they have no control,’’ Kerns said.
“I really think intent is going to be an issue.’’
The committee tried without success several times to get Kerns to offer proof of his ailment.
Six members of the panel met in private for four hours over two different days before announcing their decision.
Chairman Shawn Jasper of Hudson stepped aside from taking part in judgment after his private efforts with Kerns to bring about a mutual agreement failed.
Acting Chairman Ned Gordon, a former state senator, said the refusal of Kerns to take responsibility for his actions “weighed heavily’’ in the committee’s decision.
“People can make mistakes and we accept that as a matter of course,’’ Gordon told reporters.
“It’s one thing to make mistakes. But then having made them, not to have accepted responsibility for them is another.’’
Jasper praised the finding.
“I think the decision was exactly as it should have been,” he said. “It’s unfortunate this has to go on for another three weeks.’’
House leaders said they would take up this unanimous report on March 11.
A simple majority is needed to expel a legislator. The House vote does not require either support of the Senate or Gov. Craig Benson to take effect.
Kerns has sued the committee, the House of Representatives and Foster’s Daily Democrat, charging the process to investigate him for ethics violations was an unconstitutional denial of due process.
“What kind of sword will you use on a person of these circumstances? The committee chose the sharpest blade in the cabinet,’’ Kerns said.
The committee’s last recommendation came against the late Democratic Rep. Roland Hemon of Dover, who filed bills over several years to impeach a probate court judge who decided the case of his mother’s estate.
The House voted overwhelmingly on Jan. 29, 1998, to censure Hemon for the conduct, allowing him to remain in the House.
Kerns said in attending the House today he has postponed plans to speak to two classes at Merrimack High School. Students in current event classes invited Kerns to speak after reading stories about the case in The Telegraph.
“I am still committed to doing that,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go in and teach those classes on Friday.”
Last week, Jasper asked the panel to take away the right of Kerns to use the title of “honorable’’ once he is removed from the House.
Gordon said the title is not a legal one but given voluntarily by anyone out of respect for the office.
“This is not something awarded to the Legislature when members take office, and it’s not something the Legislature has the authority to take away,’’ Gordon said.
Kerns is accused of threatening and trying to intimidate Dover School Board officials about being able to park near Dover High School, using his title to claim he was acting in an official capacity, and bouncing a $3,995 personal check with “State of New Hampshire’’ on the memo to imply it was backed by state funds.
Dover School Board Chairman Nicholas Skaltsis said Kerns left three threatening voicemail messages after school officials informed Kerns he could no longer park his Honda Civic in a lot to be reserved for part-time students.
In the last message, Kerns lashed out at Dover’s decision to charge students $100 for a space in the lot.
“It leaves out a whole segment of working-class students,’’ he said.
“So what I will promise you, and this is off the record and just to you, commissioner (sic), and not to Foster’s Daily Democrat, I can’t wait to strike your bill down in the Legislature and your program because it discriminates against the poor.’’
Kevin Landrigan can be reached at 224-8804 or email@example.com.