MADISON, Wis. – A Wisconsin district attorney said Friday he'll get therapy and take time off but rejected growing calls for his resignation over sexual text messages he sent to a domestic abuse victim.
At a news conference two days after The Associated Press reported the messages, Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz offered a "sincere and heartfelt apology" to the woman, his soon-to-be-ex-wife and the public. He said the messages demonstrated arrogance.
"This behavior showed a lack of respect, not only for my position but for the young woman that was involved," he said from the courthouse in Chilton in remarks carried live by Wisconsin television stations. "My behavior was inappropriate. I'm embarrassed and ashamed for the choices that I've made and the fault was mine alone."
The statement marked the most remorse Kratz has shown since acknowledging Wednesday he sent 30 text messages in three days to the 26-year-old woman last October, causing her to report the harassment to police.
In one, the 50-year-old asked whether she was "the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA." In others he called her a "tall, young, hot nymph" and questioned whether her "low self-esteem" was to blame for her lack of interest. At the time, he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend on strangulation charges.
Critics blasted Kratz for refusing to resign and said his news conference was unconvincing. Kratz, 50, left without taking questions after reading a four-minute statement.
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, and two victims' advocacy groups said Gov. Jim Doyle must remove him from office. Kratz's apology came after Doyle spokesman Adam Collins said the governor was "surprised and shocked by these deeply troubling accounts" and a group representing district attorneys said he had embarrassed their profession.
"His repeated attempts to minimize his behavior show he either is in denial or only concerned for his personal interests," the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault said in a statement. "This pattern would be expected from criminal defendants, but not a sitting district attorney."
The groups urged Doyle and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to "act swiftly to restore justice in Calumet County." Kratz, a Republican, is not up for re-election in his $105,000 annual job until November 2012.
Collins said his office had been in touch with Van Hollen's and was reviewing the steps to remove a prosecutor. No decision has been made how to proceed.
Kessler, a former judge, said prosecutors and judges should be held to a higher standard but "obviously District Attorney Kratz does not agree with that."
"Simply taking self-imposed time off is not a solution," Kessler said in a statement.
In an exclusive phone interview with the AP afterward, Kratz said he received six months of individual psychotherapy after the messages were disclosed and would get more.
He said he would take time off for treatment only "unfortunately as our staffing level and the court calendar may permit." Kratz noted his office only has two prosecutors, and some cases cannot be reassigned, such as that of a man charged with sexually assaulting a child who he plans to try next week.
"The preparation has been substantial for it," he said. "Because of the seriousness of the case, it's something that I need to handle."
Kratz said he had also met with his staff this week to discuss policy changes "to ensure this kind of thing won't reoccur." He declined to elaborate.
Kratz had struck a far different tone in an interview earlier Friday. He said he was the victim of a "smear campaign" that was unfair because he did not commit a crime and the Office of Lawyer Regulation found he did not technically commit misconduct.
The board of the Wisconsin District Attorneys' Association on Friday called Kratz's behavior repugnant and "inconsistent with the standards of our profession." In a letter to Kratz, the group said such behavior would get anyone in their offices fired, and Kratz should reflect and take the appropriate action; otherwise, it will ask Doyle to consider removing him.
Kratz was president of the association in 1996 and its designee on the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board until December, when he resigned under pressure from state officials. Kratz had helped write the law creating the board, which has the power to reprimand public officials who mistreat crime victims, and served as its only chairman since 1998.
"Protecting the rights of crime victims has been my life's work," he said at the news conference.
After the woman went to police, Kratz stepped away from the case but tried to keep the matter quiet. In e-mail exchanges with state officials, Kratz called the texts "a series of respectful messages" and sought to keep them from the public, his peers and state regulators.
Attorney Michael Fox said Friday he is representing the victim, Stephanie Van Groll, of Merrill. He said he is investigating whether she has a viable legal claim that Kratz's text messages violated her civil rights and has been surprised by Kratz's lack of remorse.
"You would have to have a lapse of brain function in order to believe this could in any way be construed as innocent behavior," he said. He added, "It doesn't take a lot to text 'I'm sorry'."