MADISON, Wis. – A domestic abuse victim filed a lawsuit Friday claiming a disgraced Wisconsin prosecutor violated her constitutional rights by sending her text messages seeking to start an affair while prosecuting her ex-boyfriend.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Stephanie Van Groll, 26, alleges former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz's behavior was sexually harassing, discriminating and part of a pattern dating back years. It claims her right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution was violated and seeks unspecified damages.
"Kratz caused (Van Groll) a high degree of humiliation, anxiety and distress and a substantial loss of her and her family's privacy that would not have occurred but for his conduct," according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.
The case was filed hours after the Wisconsin Department of Justice confirmed in a letter to The Associated Press it had opened a criminal investigation that could lead to charges against Kratz, 50, who resigned last week.
Kratz sent Van Groll 30 text messages in three days last year while prosecuting her ex-boyfriend on charges of beating and nearly choking her to death. Kratz asked whether she was "the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA" and called her a "tall, young hot nymph."
Van Groll complained to police saying she felt pressured to have a relationship and worried Kratz would drop the charges against her ex. The complaint was forwarded to state Department of Justice officials, who took over the successful prosecution of her ex-boyfriend and forced Kratz to resign as chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board.
The lawsuit says Kratz knew that Van Groll, as an abuse victim, would be "unusually sensitive" to sexual requests from an authority figure. It also notes that, under Wisconsin law, witnesses of crimes have the right to be protected from threats and harm for cooperating with prosecutors.
The lawsuit also claims another domestic abuse victim, in a case 10 years ago, received "similar unwelcome harmful sexual advances" while Kratz was prosecuting her husband.
Kratz told that woman "he could have a dominatrix from Chicago with whom he was familiar train the victim/witness to be more submissive to his advances," the lawsuit says. Van Groll's attorney, Michael Fox, has said the second woman does not plan to file a lawsuit and wishes to guard her privacy.
Neither Kratz, who has been receiving therapy for an undisclosed condition, nor his attorney returned phone messages Friday.
Fox said in a Friday statement that the lawsuit aims to strengthen and clarify the rights of crime victims in Wisconsin. He noted the Office of Lawyer Regulation and the Crime Victims' Rights Board both refused to take action after learning about the text messages.
"Kratz's latest victim blew a whistle and no one listened. This lawsuit will provide (Van Groll) with the hearing she never received," he said. He said the case should spur regulators to "revisit their positions on regulating such conduct."
The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation concluded last year Kratz did not commit a crime when he sent the messages to Van Groll. That finding suggests the criminal investigation confirmed Friday centers on other allegations that have surfaced since AP first reported on the messages last month.
At least four other women have accused Kratz of inappropriate behavior. They include a law student who says Kratz sought a relationship after agreeing to help her seek a pardon for a drug conviction and a woman who says Kratz invited her on a date to a victim's autopsy.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked the public to speak with state officials about any misconduct or illegal activity by Kratz. The request was made as part of the process initiated by Gov. Jim Doyle to remove Kratz from office for cause; the Justice Department was acting as the special prosecutor in that case.
After Kratz resigned rather than face removal, AP requested documents about what the investigators had learned and what other information was gathered as part of the removal process. Justice official Kevin Potter responded Friday, saying those records are part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
"Release of related records at this time would compromise (the Division of Criminal Investigation's) ability to gain cooperation from potential witnesses and interfere with the ongoing investigation as well as any potential criminal prosecutions," he wrote.
Justice Department spokesman Bill Cosh said he could not comment on the nature of the investigation.
Kratz also is facing potential sanctions from the state Office of Lawyer Regulation, which reopened its investigation amid a barrage of criticism over its earlier finding that the text messages were not misconduct.