Wis. prosecutor urged officials to keep sexual text messages to domestic abuse victim secret
CHILTON, Wis. – at the polls in two years.
Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz called the woman "a hot, young nymph" and tried to spark a relationship in messages that became publicly known Wednesday through a police report obtained by The Associated Press. On Thursday, a top domestic violence expert and a legislator called on Kratz to resign, and a statewide advocacy group said his actions were unacceptable and had compromised his ability to serve.
It was the kind of criticism Kratz had been trying to avoid for nearly a year, according to e-mails obtained by the AP through Wisconsin's open records law. In e-mail exchanges with Wisconsin Department of Justice officials, Kratz repeatedly played down the nature of texts, calling them "a series of respectful messages," as he sought to keep them from the public, his peers and state regulators.
The Republican prosecutor in rural eastern Wisconsin doesn't face re-election until 2012, and appears likely to escape formal punishment. State legal regulators have already found that his actions did not technically amount to misconduct. The state crime victims' rights board, which Kratz chaired until state officials learned of the texts, isn't investigating. And Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who has the power to seek to remove district attorneys for cause, has been mum on the case.
On Wednesday, Kratz, 50, acknowledged sending 30 text messages to the 26-year-old woman while he was the prosecutor on her case last October. He asked in one whether she's "the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA."
After three days of what she called sexual harassment, Stephanie Van Groll reported the messages to police last year. She said she felt pressure to start a relationship with Kratz and worried that if she didn't he would drop the charges against her ex-boyfriend or retaliate against her in another way.
The complaint was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. In an e-mail to Kratz, the administrator of the department's division of legal services, Kevin Potter, rejected his claim that his messages were not sexual and said they could be construed as sexual harassment.
"Telling her several times she is 'hot' or referring to her as 'tall, young hot nymph' certainly has sexual overtones as do your comments that 'You are beautiful and would make a great young partner one day' or 'I would want you to be so hot and treat me so well that you'd be THE woman! R U that good?'" Potter wrote.
The director of the Midwest Domestic Violence Resource Center said Kratz abused his power, violated Van Groll's trust and should resign.
"If he is capable of doing this once, he is capable of repeating the behavior," Darald Hanusa said.
State Rep. Terese Berceau, a Madison Democrat, also called for the prosecutor to step down. "Mr. Kratz is not a public servant. He was serving only his own needs," she said in a press release.
The Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence called Kratz's behavior "absolutely unacceptable" and said other victims might not step forward for fear of how they'll be treated by his office.
"His actions were more than just a lapse in judgment," spokesman Tony Gibart said. "They in fact do have far-reaching implications for victim safety and public safety."
Van Groll agrees that the texts should cost Kratz his job. "I think it was disgusting and highly inappropriate," she said.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation concluded in March that Kratz's behavior was inappropriate but did not amount to misconduct, a finding strongly criticized Thursday in media outlets across the state. The office's director, Keith Sellen, said questions were appropriate but he could not comment under rules that require investigations to stay confidential.
Kratz has been the top local prosecutor in Calumet County since 1992. Known for prosecuting a high-profile slaying of a photographer in 2007, he said Wednesday that he intends to run for re-election in 2012.
In the e-mails, Potter told Kratz the texts could have jeopardized the prosecution of Van Groll's ex-boyfriend on a felony strangulation charge. Potter said Van Groll could have refused to cooperate or the messages could have become evidence used to question her motives and credibility.
Kratz stepped aside from the prosecution after Van Groll complained to authorities about the text messages, and an assistant attorney general won a conviction earlier this year.
Julie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board, said it cannot investigate unless it receives a complaint from Van Groll.
Kratz helped create the rights board, which has the power to reprimand public officials who mistreat crime victims. In e-mails he resisted stepping down as chairman, but Potter wrote that officials would be obligated to share details of the case with the Wisconsin District Attorneys' Association if he didn't.
In one e-mail Kratz proposed settling the matter with Justice officials by stepping down from the board but having them agree not to refer the matter to legal regulators or to initiate "public disclosure." He ultimately stepped down from the board and reported himself to the Office of Lawyer Regulation in December.