MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's governor took initial steps Wednesday to remove a prosecutor who sent sexually explicit text messages to a domestic abuse victim and is accused of similar misconduct with two other women.
Gov. Jim Doyle said his office had received verified complaints from county taxpayers, which was required to start the process to remove Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz. Doyle said Kratz was being notified of the charges and a public hearing would be scheduled soon.
Doyle also appointed former Kenosha County District Attorney Bob Jambois to oversee the removal proceedings. The action comes a week after the text messages were revealed by The Associated Press, and state officials who knew or should have known about Kratz's behavior have since come under fire for inaction.
Democratic Rep. Terese Berceau called for an audit Wednesday of the Office of Lawyer Regulation, which oversees attorney conduct. The OLR cleared Kratz of wrongdoing in March after it learned about the text messages but kept the decision secret per office policy.
Doyle also questioned why the OLR didn't come down hard on Kratz and why the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board, which Kratz led until December, didn't investigate.
Kratz has acknowledged sending 30 text messages in three days last year to a domestic abuse victim while he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend. In the messages, Kratz asked whether the woman was "the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA," and called her a "tall, young, hot nymph."
An OLR investigator who reviewed the messages took no action, saying they were inappropriate but not professional misconduct.
"It is quite obvious that OLR does not have an appropriate view of what behavior and actions construe professional misconduct and harassment, especially in cases involving domestic violence survivors," Berceau said.
An aide to Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has asked OLR to revisit the case. The OLR and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which oversees the agency, have been silent on the controversy.
An Oklahoma City University law student said Kratz also sent her racy text messages after he agreed to help her get a pardon for a drug conviction she received as a teenager. Another woman says Kratz invited her to an autopsy after they went to dinner, provided she act like his girlfriend and "wear high heels and a skirt," though Kratz denied the claim.
Kratz will be able to defend himself during the upcoming public hearing. Jambois, who was appointed to oversee the removal proceedings, will then make a report to the governor, who will make the final decision. The governor must find cause to remove Kratz, defined under state law as "inefficiency, neglect of duty, official misconduct, or malfeasance in office."
Doyle said he hopes to make a decision within 30 days.
"I want to get this done," the governor, a former prosecutor, said.
Jambois scheduled a status conference Monday in Chilton. It isn't the hearing on the removal charges but will be open to the public.
Doyle's office released copies of two complaints from residents — a woman whose friend was killed by her boyfriend and a volunteer at a local shelter for abused women — seeking Kratz's ouster. Both letters said Kratz's text messages to the domestic abuse victim, 26-year-old Stephanie Van Groll, constituted sexual harassment and were cause for removal. The letters also mentioned allegations from the other two women.
Kratz's attorney, Robert Craanen, said he couldn't reach Kratz on Wednesday because he was undergoing inpatient treatment. Kratz went on medical leave Monday but has rejected calls to resign
Craanen has said he plans to argue that Kratz had a long and successful career, did not commit a crime and was cleared of misconduct in the Van Groll matter. Craanen also said he would argue that other prosecutors have done worse and kept their jobs.
The law student, Maria Ruskiewicz, said in a phone interview Wednesday that she would be willing to testify at Kratz's removal hearing.
"I'm excited and I hope they carry it through and find him guilty and take his position away," Ruskiewicz, who received the pardon last month, told The Associated Press.
She dismissed suggestions by Kratz's lawyer that she was motivated by money in coming forward, saying she has no plans to file a lawsuit and was afraid to come forward sooner.
"The reality is I did the right thing," she said. "He's a desperate man in a desperate situation making desperate statements."
The Wisconsin Department of Justice will act as the prosecutor in the removal proceedings.
Kratz, 50, has prosecuted several high-profile cases since becoming district attorney in Calumet County in 1992. He is not up for re-election until November 2012.
Kratz also served 11 years as the chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims' Rights Board, which has the power to sanction judges, police officers and prosecutors who mistreat victims. That group is expected to meet Friday to discuss its procedures in the wake of the scandal.
Associated Press Writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.