- Associated Press - Monday, September 20, 2010

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle, who made a long political career as a no-nonsense prosecutor standing up for victims, now must deal with what to do about a district attorney caught sending racy text message to a domestic abuse victim.

An outraged Mr. Doyle said Monday that he would start the process to consider removing Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz and that he hopes to make a decision in a month. At a news conference five days after the Associated Press broke the story, Mr. Doyle said any prosecutor who would have behaved that way on his watch would have faced repercussions.

“I consider this to be a very, very, very serious issue,” said Mr. Doyle, a former district attorney and attorney general who leaves the governor’s office in January. “It’s one that personally strikes to a lot of things I have worked very hard on in my career: crime victims’ rights and domestic violence. It troubles me deeply that somebody turns to the criminal justice system for help and receives the kinds of texts we have seen.”

Mr. Doyle, a two-term Democrat, said that as soon as he receives a complaint from a local taxpayer required under the law, he would appoint a hearing commissioner, hold a public hearing and make a decision on whether to remove Mr. Kratz. He promised to move “very, very quickly.”

Mr. Doyle said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that Mr. Kratz would have the right to defend his actions in a hearing.

“I believe the process for removal needs to get going and get going immediately,” Mr. Doyle said.

Mr. Doyle also said he also wants to look into why no action was taken after something about Mr. Kratz was reported to the state’s Office of Lawyer Regulation. An investigator in that office closed the case without taking action in March, saying Mr. Kratz’s behavior was inappropriate but did not violate rules governing attorney conduct.

Mr. Doyle said the state Department of Justice had referred the matter to the lawyer responsibility office and never heard back that the matter ended without any action being taken.

Mr. Kratz has acknowledged sending 30 text messages in three days last year to a woman while he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend in an abuse case. In the messages, Mr. 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.”

Mr. Doyle also made public a letter sent last week from a second woman who said Mr. Kratz abused his position in seeking a relationship with her earlier this year. The woman claims she met Mr. Kratz through an online dating site and eventually went out to dinner with him.

The woman said Mr. Kratz talked to detectives about a high-profile missing woman investigation in front of her and gave her confidential details. Afterward, he sent her text messages with developments and later invited her to the slain woman’s autopsy, “provided I act as his girlfriend and would wear high heels and a skirt.”

The woman said she ended contact after a “few frustrating days.”

Mr. Doyle’s office redacted the name of the woman, but the governor said the letter was released after his office talked with her. Mr. Doyle called Mr. Kratz’s behavior related to the autopsy the most troubling and “unimaginable” if true.

“The thought that a victim’s body would somehow be used as a lure … I don’t know who could ever see it as a lure — that’s almost gallows humor,” he said. “To have an autopsy be used as a premise for a social engagement is just beyond anything anybody could imagine.”

Robert J. Craanen, Mr. Kratz’s lawyer, said allegations that Mr. Kratz invited a woman on a date to an autopsy are “completely bogus.”

Mr. Kraanan said that Mr. Kratz did go on a date with the woman in January and did get a call about an autopsy at dinner, but that Mr. Kratz flat out denies the autopsy invitation.

The woman never complained at the time, Mr. Craanen said, and is “coming out of the woodwork now.” 

State law gives the governor the power to remove district attorneys for cause, but the process rarely has been used. Mr. Doyle said he used the law to briefly suspend a district attorney charged with a crime in 2006; that official was restored to office after being acquitted.

“Removal? I’ve never heard of that,” said Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who has been in office since 1982.

Mr. Kratz apologized for the text messages and said he would get therapy last week. He announced Monday he’s going on medical leave indefinitely. He did not return phone messages seeking comment on the second woman’s claims.

Mr. Kratz has rejected calls from lawmakers, his peers and victims’ advocates to resign. Mr. Kratz, 50, has been the district attorney in the rural eastern Wisconsin area since 1992. He is not up for re-election until November 2012.

Mr. Craanen said Mr. Kratz was not charged with a crime, did not violate rules governing attorney conduct and has been a successful prosecutor for 25 years. He said he would argue that other district attorneys have committed more serious misconduct related to withholding evidence and kept their jobs.

“This is just a really inappropriately bad mistake by this DA after many years of commitment to the community,” Mr. Craanen said. “It’s got nothing to do with evidence, with misdoing; he was never charged with anything… . He’s the first to admit this was quite a mistake, but it shouldn’t really define his career. And he’s been a great DA.”

According to records obtained Monday by the AP, Mr. Kratz started sending the texts minutes after he told the woman, Stephanie Van Groll, he was considering reducing the charge against her ex-boyfriend — a move she did not support.

Mr. Kratz was prosecuting Ms. Van Groll’s ex-boyfriend, Shannon Konitzer, for felony strangulation and misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Authorities say Mr. Konitzer grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the ground in a jealous rage, got on top of her and strangled her with both hands. She eventually got away and called police.

Ms. Van Groll told state investigators the text messages started coming after she met with Mr. Kratz to be interviewed about the case. She said she thought it was odd he asked at the end whether she would mind if he reduced the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor, according to the Division of Criminal Investigation records.

Ms. Van Groll’s attorney, Michael Fox, said the discussion of a lesser charge gave the subsequent text messages greater impact. Ms. Van Groll told police she felt pressured to bow to Mr. Kratz’s wishes and worried he’d retaliate if she didn’t agree.

“She was frightened that, to the extent she didn’t at least be civil to this district attorney, that charge might be lessened and her greatest fear was that it would be dropped altogether,” Mr. Fox said. “Whether intended or not, it amplifies the harmful nature of the statements he made to her.”

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