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

The state agency that weighs attorney misconduct allegations said Friday that it will reopen its investigation of a prosecutor who sent harassing, racy text messages to a domestic abuse victim.

Office of Lawyer Regulation Director Keith Sellen said the agency would again investigate Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz because new information appears to show "a pattern of conduct" by the prosecutor, who has been accused of abusing his office to seek relationships with at least two other women in the last week.

The announcement came after several days of withering criticism from Gov. Jim Doyle, state lawmakers and others who questioned how the agency could have failed to sanction Kratz earlier.

Kratz told the regulatory agency last December that he had sent sexually charged text messages to a domestic abuse victim while prosecuting a case against her alleged abuser.

The agency closed the case in March, saying the text messages were inappropriate but did not amount to professional misconduct. If the agency had found misconduct, it could have reprimanded, suspended or even sought to disbar Kratz.

Doyle this week started a rarely used process to remove Kratz from office for cause.

Stephanie Van Groll, 26, went to police last October after receiving 30 text messages in three days from Kratz in which he called her a "hot nymph" and asked 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 on a strangulation charge.

The state Department of Justice took over the prosecution, 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 OLR.

Since The Associated Press broke the text messages story last week, a law student in Oklahoma has alleged she received similar messages from Kratz after she received his support to have a drug conviction pardoned in 2008.

A third 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 through his attorney.

Attorney Michael Fox, who is representing Van Groll, said he is investigating allegations by a fourth woman, who says she was harassed by Kratz during a domestic abuse case 10 years ago. That woman wants her identity kept secret, he said.

A message left with Kratz's attorney, Robert Craanen, seeking comment on the reopened investigation was not immediately returned on Friday. Kratz went on medical leave Monday and for treatment of an undisclosed purpose.

The regulatory agency's decision to reopen its investigation could be devastating for Kratz, who had cited the agency's finding of no violation as proof his conduct wasn't that serious. That decision was going to be a key part of Kratz's push to keep the job he had held since 1992.

Meanwhile, the crime victims' panel met Friday but stayed 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 said Friday that Kratz's resignation from the board happened during a closed session, and that the board needs to call another meeting to decide whether it can discuss the 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, who shouted questions at members about its inaction for 10 minutes.

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