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Experience helps DA’s office adjust

Hon. Donald Poppy

Hon. Donald Poppy

With the sudden departure of Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz after a number of accusations of unethical behavior, the county finds itself with just one prosecutor.

Assistant district attorney Jeffrey S. Froehlich is drawing on previous experience to help handle the increased workload.

As the lone prosecutor in the county since Sept. 20, Froehlich has enlisted the aid of local and state attorneys to compensate for the unexpected departure of Kratz, who has been the county’s lead prosecutor since 1992.

Previous experience is coming in handy. Froehlich handled the majority of cases that came in during the 10-week stretch in 2007 when Kratz prosecuted Steven Avery and his nephew for murder.

“We made arrangements then and things went very smoothly,” Froehlich said. “Basically, we’re employing the same strategy now.”

That strategy includes calling on other agencies to help out. So far, six cases assigned to Kratz have been farmed out to surrounding counties as well as to the Department of Justice.

“We have only had to reschedule one case because of Mr. Kratz’ absence, and that was a complicated sex assault case which I received two days before trial,” Froehlich said.

Kratz is facing removal from office following a series of allegations that he had inappropriate contact with various women. His attorney has said the embattled district attorney will resign by Oct. 8.

Froehlich, who joined the office in 2001, said he will seek appointment to the position if it became available.

Until then, he said his primary goal is to minimize delays until a permanent replacement is found.

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Prosecutors in Winnebago, Outagamie and Fond du Lac counties have offered assistance in taking Kratz’ cases that are headed to trial within the next few months, which has helped ease the short-term burden. The Department of Administration has authorized the hiring of a temporary special prosecutor.

The DOJ has also agreed to take over two pending felony child sexual assault cases, but declined a request to prosecute a termination of parental rights case due to lack of expertise in the area.

“As far as filings go, I think they will probably dip a little over the next couple of weeks,” Froehlich said. “I spent 20 hours in court the first three days of last week and that left very little time to deal with things coming in.”

As the lone judge in the county, Judge Donald A. Poppy said he routinely relies on visiting judges to help with his criminal caseload.

But given the circumstances, he expects some of those visits will be rescheduled because Froehlich simply can’t be in two courtrooms at once.

“Right now I’m dealing with the fourth-highest caseload in the state, so I don’t know how much more it can increase,” Poppy said. “It’s something we’ll just have to work through.”

Two judges are scheduled to visit in November and assist Poppy.

Appleton attorney Michael E. Rudolph regularly practices in Calumet County and said Kratz’ absence has yet to adversely impact his scheduled court appearances.

In fact, Rudolph said even when Kratz was in office, Froehlich tended to prosecute the majority of the cases he defended.

But he questioned how long the office could maintain its current pace.

“I don’t see how in the long term one lawyer can continue to do the work of two lawyers,” he said. “Something will have to give, whether it’s the cases that are prosecuted or the attention given to the cases.”

Jack Zemlicka can be reached at jack.zemlicka@wislawjournal.com.

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