MADISON, Wis. – Maria Ruskiewicz had turned her life around after she was convicted on a marijuana charge in 1997.
She earned two college degrees. She had been accepted to law school. And now she was seeking a pardon to wipe away her felony from her troubled teenage years.
Standing in her way, she said Tuesday, was Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz, who had prosecuted her and whose support was critical as she asked Gov. Jim Doyle for a pardon. Kratz agreed to support her, she said, but soon wanted something in return.
Ruskiewicz said Kratz sent her inappropriate text messages implying that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with her in 2008 while her pardon request was pending. Ruskiewicz, an Oklahoma City University law student, is the third woman in the past week to accuse Kratz of sending sexually harassing texts.
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."
A second woman 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."
Ruskiewicz said that in her case, the messages upset her and she wanted them to end, but she also didn't want to anger someone who held power over her future.
Eventually, she said, she told Kratz she wasn't interested and he stopped. Gov. Jim Doyle pardoned her last month.
"The reason why I'm coming forward is he abuses his power, not only with women, but with women in certain situations who are extremely vulnerable to his authority," Ruskiewicz, 31, told The Associated Press.
Kratz's attorney, Bob Craanen, denied that his client invited the second woman to witness the autopsy and has apologized for the text messages to the abuse victim. Craanen said he did not know anything about Ruskiewicz's claims and could not reach Kratz, who is receiving inpatient therapy.
Kratz announced Monday he was going on medical leave indefinitely. He has rejected calls to resign from lawmakers, his peers and victims' advocates.
Doyle said he planned to start the process to consider removing Kratz from office and said he hopes to make a decision in a month.
Ruskiewicz went to Kratz in 2008 asking for support for her pardon application. She said they met in his office, where he asked an odd question about whether she thought it was appropriate for a boss to have a sexual relationship with a secretary. She said she was confused but grateful for his support.
He gave her his cell phone number, and she texted him later to thank him for the help — a move she now calls a mistake.
She said his messages soon turned suggestive. She recalled him texting while he was on vacation in Michigan with his family asking her to impress him "in between naps." She said he later pestered her when she didn't answer.
After discussing the matter with relatives, she told him she was not interested and he said he would stop. She said she didn't hear from him for months but then got a message in which he asked to meet in person to discuss "a personal matter." At the time, she was just starting law school.
Deborah Felice, the associate dean for students at the law school, said she met with Ruskiewicz at her request on Sept. 25, 2008, to discuss the messages.
"She said she was very upset because she was pursuing a pardon and the DA she was working with was sending her these text messages that were basically stalking her," Felice said, adding that she was shown some of the messages.
Felice said she and Ruskiewicz met with a university lawyer five days later. They decided the best course of action was to ignore Kratz and hope he would go away. Felice said she spoke with Ruskiewicz weeks later and the messages had stopped, and "that's the last I heard of it until this morning," when she saw a segment about Kratz on national TV.
"I heard, 'Wisconsin DA sexting' and I nearly died," she said. "I thought, this has to be the same guy. It's way out of line."
Richard Ginkowski, assistant district attorney in Kenosha County, said Ruskiewicz told her about Kratz's behavior when they met in his office in June 2009 to discuss a possible internship.
"It was a bit of a bombshell," he said. "It's something strange, bizarre, unusual, pick your word. And certainly, if true, it was inappropriate."
Ginkowski said he suggested the first thing to do was make sure Kratz still supported her pardon, which would be critical for a legal career. He said he then explained her options, including reporting Kratz to the Office of Lawyer Regulation.
Ginkowski produced an e-mail message showing Ruskiewicz asked him to keep the matter confidential. He said he e-mailed her a recent news story about Kratz and credited her "for having the guts to come forward."
For her part, Ruskiewicz said she's learned a lesson.
"Now I don't text anyone who is professional," she said. "But I didn't know. I was a newbie at it."