Wis. regulatory board reopens ethics investigation into DA who sent racy texts to abuse victim

By Ryan J. Foley, AP
Friday, September 24, 2010

Wis. regulators reopen ’sexting DA’ investigation

MADISON, Wis. — An agency that declined to discipline a prosecutor for sending harassing text messages to a domestic abuse victim reopened its investigation Friday amid mounting criticism and new allegations of misconduct.

The Office of Lawyer Regulation is restarting the probe into Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz because new information appears to show “a pattern of conduct” by Kratz, said the agency’s director, Keith Sellen.

“The OLR will investigate all the allegations that have been made against District Attorney Kratz,” Sellen said in a statement, after staying silent on the matter for more than a week.

The announcement comes after the agency received biting criticism from Gov. Jim Doyle and other elected officials, who questioned how it could have failed to sanction Kratz earlier. Since The Associated Press broke the text messages story last week, at least two other women have made similar allegations of misconduct against Kratz.

Kratz has admitted sending provocative text messages last year to Stephanie Van Groll, calling her a “hot nymph” and asking if she was “the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA.” At the time, Kratz was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend, who was accused of choking her in a jealous rage.

In December, Kratz told the OLR that he sent the text messages. The agency closed the case without a formal review in March, saying the messages were inappropriate but did not amount to professional misconduct.

A law student in Oklahoma told AP this week she received similar messages from Kratz in 2008 shortly after receiving his support for the pardon of an old drug conviction. Doyle pardoned the woman last month, and said he is outraged Kratz tried to use his pardon power to strike up a relationship.

Another woman who met Kratz on an Internet dating site complained to Doyle’s office last week that Kratz invited her to an autopsy after they went to dinner in January, “provided I act as his girlfriend and would wear high heels and a skirt.” Kratz has denied that allegation — which the governor called “unimaginable” — through his attorney.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office had asked the Office of Lawyer Regulation to revisit the case, praised its decision.

“Today’s announcement shows that OLR has listened to these concerns and is willing to give the allegations against District Attorney Kratz the attention they deserve,” he said.

A message left with Kratz’s attorney, Robert Craanen, seeking comment was not immediately returned Friday. In an interview Wednesday, Craanen had defended OLR’s conclusion and said it was a strong watchdog.

Kratz went on medical leave Monday for treatment for an undisclosed reason.

The decision by the agency, which can seek to reprimand, suspend or even disbar Kratz, could severely undermine his attempts to retain his job. Kratz has cited its March finding of no violation as proof his conduct wasn’t that serious, and indicated he planned to make it a key part of his defense to remain district attorney.

Through her attorney, Van Groll told the Office of Lawyer Regulation this week that she would cooperate if the case was reopened.

Van Groll, 26, went to police last October after receiving the 30 text messages from Kratz over a three-day period.

The state Department of Justice took over the prosecution of her ex-boyfriend, but determined Kratz did not commit a crime. Officials pressured him to resign last December as chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims’ Rights Board, a post he held since 1998, and to report his conduct to the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

Doyle this week started a rarely used process to try to remove Kratz from office for cause. Van Hollen’s office is acting as the special prosecutor, and asked the public Thursday to come forward with any information about misconduct by Kratz. A status conference in the case is set for Monday, and the governor hopes to make a decision in 30 days.

Meanwhile, the crime victims’ panel met Friday but stayed mostly quiet on its handling of the case. Kratz has said he told the board about his text messages to Van Groll when he resigned in December, and the board has faced criticism over failing to act against him.

The board, which can sanction officials who mistreat victims, has said it did not act because it did not receive a complaint against Kratz. Board lawyer Bruce Olsen added another explanation Friday, saying it has no power to sanction Kratz over allegations of “sexual harassment or gender discrimination.”

State law says crime victims must be “treated with dignity, respect, courtesy and sensitivity” and have the right to receive information about cases and testify at sentencing hearings, among other things. The board’s charge is to enforce those rights by sanctioning public officials who violate them.

Olsen said that Kratz’s resignation from the board happened during a closed session, and the board needs to call another meeting to decide whether it can discuss that issue in public since it was not on Friday’s agenda.

Olsen said the oversight was partly to blame because the panel had been without a leader until Friday, when Trisha Anderson was selected chair. The board met in closed session to discuss other cases after a contentious session with a pack of reporters.

“We’re not trying to stonewall in any way,” Olsen said, before later cutting off questioning and telling reporters to leave.

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