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Supreme Court suspends license of former Calumet County DA Ken Kratz
MADISON — Former Calumet County district attorney Kenneth Kratz, who drew fire for sending unwanted, sexually charged text messages to a domestic abuse victim, will lose his law license for four months.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday issued its decision in a long-running disciplinary case against Kratz. In addition to the suspension, Kratz was ordered to pay nearly $24,000 to cover the costs of the proceedings.
“This was exploitative behavior, harassing behavior, and a crass placement of his personal interests above those of his client, the State of Wisconsin,” the decision stated. It referred to Kratz’s conduct as “appalling,” “boorish” and “sophomoric.”
Kratz left office amid heavy pressure once the series of text messages became public in 2010. The texts — through which Kratz sought a relationship — were sent the year prior while he was prosecuting the woman’s ex-boyfriend.
In one of the texts, Kratz called the 25-year-old woman a “tall, young, hot nymph.” In another, he asked, “Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA ... the riskier the better?”
Kratz, who has since established a West Bend law firm, declined comment to Post-Crescent Media other than to say he’s happy the case is concluded and looks forward to moving on in his private practice.
He issued a written statement in which he cited sexual compulsion and an addiction to prescriptions as factors that contributed to his behavior. Kratz said he’s undergone therapy and apologized to his family and the legal profession.
“I am very pleased to recognize that today's sanctions applied to an incredibly selfish and arrogant public official,” he wrote in the prepared statement. “Thankfully, a person who no longer exists.”
Lawyer regulation system criticizedIn addition to disciplining Kratz, the Supreme Court took issue with Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation, or OLR.
Justice David Prosser criticized the regulation office for its handling of the matter. He and Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson called for a review of its procedures.
Kratz’s case was one of four decisions issued Friday in which the justices questioned OLR practices.
“The Kratz case raised the issue of the role of partisan politics and media publicity in discipline proceedings,” Abrahamson wrote in one of the decisions.
Kratz’s texts were reported to the OLR nearly a year before their public disclosure. Regulators initially concluded there were no grounds to open an investigation. They reopened the case in the midst of the controversy.
Prosser criticized the agency for taking 13 months to file a complaint after re-opening the case. He also questioned the filing of three “sensational counts” against Kratz, one of which alleged sexual assault. Kratz said on Friday that there was no assault. Those counts were dismissed for lack of proof.
“From all appearances, OLR was determined to make up for ‘dropping the ball,’” Prosser wrote.
Tony Gibart of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin said the four-month suspension is an insufficient punishment for a “horrendous abuse of power.”
The woman who received the texts acknowledged a fear of retribution when taking them to police in 2009. “I’m afraid that if I don’t do what he wants me to do, he will throw out my whole case, and who knows what else,” she told an officer.
Beth Schnorr, executive director of Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs, had hoped for a suspension of six months or longer. A suspension of that length would’ve required Kratz to apply for reinstatement and show during a hearing that he has the moral character to resume legal practice.
“He was in a position of power, and he took advantage of that power to harass and intimidate the victim,” Schnorr said.
Court: Kratz's conduct 'appalling'The Supreme Court ruling came nearly two years after the OLR’s disciplinary hearing.
In 2012, Kratz pleaded no contest to a charge of conflict of interest, two counts of sexual harassment and three counts of exhibiting an offensive personality. Three of the charges related to the text messages. The remaining three stemmed from inappropriate comments made to two county social workers.
The OLR sought a six-month suspension of Kratz’s law license.
Judge Robert Kinney, who handled the disciplinary case, recommended four months, citing the toll the texts already had taken on Kratz — including loss of his elected seat, the end of his marriage and a bankruptcy filing.
“The collateral consequences already suffered by (Kratz) here match many of those he would have suffered had he been convicted of a violent felony,” Kinney wrote in his 2012 report.
Kratz resigned from office shortly before former Gov. Jim Doyle was to initiate proceedings to have him removed.
The court ruled unanimously on the length of the suspension. Prosser dissented on costs, finding the amount “exorbitant.”
Kratz, whose suspension takes effect July 11, said in his statement his future in law will meet or exceed the profession’s legal and ethical standards.
“Dignity and respect must be shown to all crime victims throughout the difficult criminal justice process, and failure to abide by those standards should carry very harsh remedies,” he wrote. “That happened today.”