CHILTON, Wis. – A Wisconsin prosecutor facing removal from office over accusations that he abused his position in seeking relationships with vulnerable women will resign instead, his attorney said Monday.
Attorney Robert Craanen said Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz will step down before Oct. 8, the date set for a hearing to hear testimony on his possible removal from office.
Kratz, a Republican, had been the top prosecutor in the eastern Wisconsin county south of Green Bay since 1992. He had been facing demands for his resignation since The Associated Press reported earlier this month he sent 30 text messages to a domestic abuse victim trying to strike up an affair while he prosecuted her ex-boyfriend on a strangulation charge.
In them, the 50-year-old Kratz called the 26-year-old woman a "hot nymph," asked if she was "the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA" and wondered whether her "low self-esteem" was to blame for her lack of interest. Stephanie Van Groll complained to police about the harassment, and Kratz was removed from the case.
Lawmakers, the governor, Kratz's peers and victims' advocates were outraged when they learned about the texts. Kratz apologized for his behavior but initially refused to resign, saying the punishment would be too harsh.
Craanen said he discussed resignation with Kratz several days ago and again "very recently."
"Ken decided that this was the best interest for everyone involved," Craanen said. "He also mentioned the Calumet County ... residents, they need to move on."
Gov. Jim Doyle last week started a rarely used process to consider removing Kratz from office for cause. Craanen spoke to reporters after a meeting at the Chilton courthouse to set a schedule for the process, including a public hearing date. Kratz was not present and did not immediately return a phone message left on his cell phone.
Craanen said he was waiting for more information from Kratz before formally submitting his client's resignation. Doyle spokesman Adam Collins said the governor will continue with the removal proceedings until he receives the resignation letter.
Craanen complained the removal process was politically motivated and moving too fast. He said he's barely spoken to Kratz, who is receiving inpatient treatment for an undisclosed medical problem, and didn't think he could prepare for the public hearing in 10 days.
"There was no way he could find a successful outcome in this," Craanen said.
He noted the commissioner overseeing the hearing, Bob Jambois, is a Doyle ally. Jambois on Monday rejected Craanen's plea for more time to prepare for the public hearing and set the Oct. 8 date.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Storm, who is acting as special prosecutor in the case, denied allegations of political influence. He noted the process to remove an elected county official was spelled out in the state constitution and had been used before, most recently in 1996.
Doyle started the process after local residents filed complaints with his office seeking Kratz's removal.
One of the complainants, Heather Severson, said she is "absolutely outraged" Kratz did not resign sooner.
"I feel like he's put them through enough," she said. "And to drag it on into this process and then to get this point and resign after saying he would not resign, is a little disturbing but we will see what happens."
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Kratz's resignation would avoid a costly removal process and save his alleged victims the angst of having to testify.
Three groups that advocate for crime victims called Kratz's resignation "an important first step to restore justice and safety for victims in his community."
The groups praised Van Groll, who did not immediately return a phone message, for coming forward.
"Ms. Van Groll ... had the strength to hold Kratz accountable for his actions," the groups said in a statement.
After the text messages to Van Groll became public, an Oklahoma law student told the AP last week she received similar texts in 2008 after Kratz supported her request for a pardon on an old drug charge. A woman complained to Doyle's office that Kratz invited her to a date at an autopsy. And two more crime victims who have stayed anonymous told a local newspaper and a civil rights attorney Kratz acted inappropriately toward them.
On Friday, the Office of Lawyer Regulation announced it would reopen an investigation into the allegations and determine whether Kratz committed professional misconduct. That office received biting criticism after news that it was aware of the text messages in March but declined to discipline Kratz, saying he hadn't violated any rules.
Kratz announced last week he was on medical leave from his $105,000 per year job indefinitely. He has apologized for the text messages to Van Groll but stayed mostly silent on the accusations by other women, except to deny the autopsy allegation.
Kratz was appointed by Gov. Tommy Thompson and had been re-elected several times since without opposition. He was not up for re-election until 2012.
The prosecutor was best known for winning the 2007 conviction of Steven Avery in the death of a photographer. The case received national attention because the killing happened shortly after Avery was freed from prison, where he spent 18 years for a rape he did not commit.
Kratz was also the longtime chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board, which investigates and sanctions public officials who violate crime victims' rights. He stepped down from that post in December under pressure from state officials.