Loudoun Co. Supervisor tells district to release report on client’s sexual assault case, or lose funding

Loudoun County Supervisor Caleb Kershner has threatened to withhold funding for the Virginia school system unless it releases a law firm report it commissioned to investigate the system’s handling of two sexual assaults at two county high schools involving a then-14-year-old boy, that Kershner’s law firm, and he personally represented.

Now 15 years old, the boy has been sentenced to supervised probation, in a juvenile detention facility, after a May 28 assault at Stone Bridge High School, and an Oct. 6 assault at Broad Run High School.

Last Friday, Kershner — a partner at the Leesburg-based Simms-Showers law firm since 2013 — joined trial attorney William Mann at the defense table, and successfully argued for the juvenile court judge to reconsider her Jan. 12 ruling.

Loudoun County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Chief Judge Pamela Brooks had sentenced the boy to supervised probation, but also took the rare step of requiring he register for life on the Virginia sex offender registry.

After arguments from Kershner, Mann, and Jonathan Monroe, Brooks acknowledged she had made an error in her earlier ruling, and removed the sex offender registry requirement from the teen’s disposition — the juvenile equivalent to a sentence in an adult court.

In court, Kershner stated the second assault could have been avoided if the district had resolved their case on the first assault within the 21 days required by law to keep his teenage client in custody.

“After the defendant’s first offense, he was released from custody at the Commonwealth Attorney’s request because they weren’t ready to resolve the first sexual assault case within 21 days, as required by law for juveniles held in custody,” Kershner said in a Facebook post Saturday morning.

In an interview with WTOP, Kershner said his argument was bolstered by studies that 95% of juveniles who commit a first sexual assault never re-offend. And he said professionals — including the probation officer in his client’s case — discourage having juveniles register as sex offenders, because it has statistically made young people more likely to experience recidivism.

“So, I requested the court to reconsider what they’d done,” Kershner said, “because there had been no opportunity to hear any evidence — any statistical-based evidence.”

Timeline of school system’s handling of assaults scrutinized

The May 28 assault in a girls bathroom at Stone Bridge High School was not made public until the victim’s father told the Daily Wire that the same teen charged in his daughter’s attack was later charged with groping a different girl, at Broad Run High School, on Oct. 6.

On Oct. 6, nearly five months after Kershner’s client was released from custody with charges pending in the Stone Bridge assault, he was arrested and charged with abduction and sexual battery after allegedly forcing a girl into an unoccupied classroom and groping her at Broad Run High School.

On Oct. 25, Brooks ruled the teen was responsible for one count forcible sodomy and one count of forcible fellatio. He and the victim had had previous consensual sexual encounters.

Approximately three weeks later, the teenager entered a “no contest” plea in the Oct. assault at Broad Run. In a no-contest plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but doesn’t dispute the facts of the charge, which typically has the same effect as pleading guilty.

Amid allegations of a cover-up, on Nov. 5, Loudoun County Public Schools announced it had hired a law firm to conduct an independent review of LCPS’s handling of the assaults.

Earlier this month, the school system said the report was complete, but LCPS declined to release it, citing attorney client privilege and privacy concerns.

In his role as the elected supervisor member for the Catoctin District, Kershner told WTOP LCPS failed the victims by placing the defendant — his client — into another school without notifying staff and parents of the criminal case pending.

In an upcoming Feb. joint session of the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, Kershner says unless the school system releases the report, their funding could be in peril.

“LCPS needs to keep our students safe, and parents need assurances that the mistakes made by LCPS and by the Commonwealth Attorney will never occur again,” he said. “The Board of Supervisors will be starting our budget process with LCPS this month, and I will be asking LCPS to release their independent sexual assault report as a condition of funding.”

Perceived conflicts of interest

Earlier in the post, Kershner explained his law firm’s decision to defend his client, despite his role as county supervisor.

“Ethically it is extremely difficult (and highly discouraged) for a lawyer to resign from a criminal case,” he said. “Courts generally will not allow it. We are professionally bound to represent the best interest of our client.”

WTOP asked the sitting county supervisor about concerns raised by social media commenters about any perceived conflicts of interest. Initially, he responded by saying that he had not violated attorney-client privilege in his public comments.

When asked, again, to respond to questions of a conflict of interest from social media commentators — in an elected position which funds the school board — Kershner said that there was no conflict and that he did need to recuse himself.

“The one question about should I have stepped away from the case because I happen to hold a public office — well, of course not,” he told WTOP. “I mean, there could be instances where that would be the case, but, first of all, I wasn’t the one handling it, my firm was handling it.”

Kershner acknowledges that while his firm, not him personally, handled the case initially, he has since participated in litigation on the behalf of the 14-year-old.

When asked about the budget tie, and the perceived conflict, he said that his knowledge of what happened in the district would be a much worse oversight.

“I think the conflict would be if I was quiet and said nothing knowing how great the failures were,” he said.

WTOP’s Ivy Lyons and Joshua Barlow contributed to this report.

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