Former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz – who resigned after sending racy text messages to a domestic abuse victim – has been suspended for four months by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Kratz resigned as DA in 2010 – a position he held for 18 years – after it was reported he had tried to spark an affair with Stephanie Van Groll, a woman for whom the DA’s office was pressing charges. The situation triggered a Department of Justice investigation that yielded no criminal charges. The Office of Lawyer Regulation initially dismissed the case, though reopened it after The Associated Press obtained an investigative report.
After the Van Groll story broke, other women came forward, as well. Kratz eventually pleaded no contest to six misconduct counts.
At the time the DOJ investigated Kratz, he was the chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims’ Rights Board. He resigned after the allegations came to light.
Kratz now has a criminal defense law practice in West Bend.
The justices, in a colorful opinion Friday, ruled that Kratz will not be able to practice for four months, effective July 11. The OLR had argued for a six-month suspension, since Kratz then would have to apply to have his license reinstated, but the referee and court weighed mitigating factors, such as his successful completion of the Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program through the State Bar.
The court also ordered Kratz to pay $23,904.10 for the cost of the proceedings, despite Kratz’s objections.
“In short, whatever his qualities and accomplishments as a lawyer, Attorney Kratz proved himself during the period in question to be sanctionably sophomoric,” according to the majority opinion.
According to a statement attributed to Kratz that was released Friday, he is happy the court has finally ruled in the case, “which has unfortunately defined my personal and professional life since the fall of 2009.
“I once again apologize for the embarrassment and dishonor I have caused my family, the Calumet County District Attorney’s Office, and the legal profession as a whole,” according to the statement. “I am very pleased to recognize that today’s sanctions applied to an incredibly selfish and arrogant public official – thankfully, a person who no longer exists.”
Kratz had argued that the situation drove him into bankruptcy and that his actions during that period were fueled by drug and sex addictions.
According to Friday’s statement, Kratz also shot back at OLR for filing allegations that he said “never happened.”
According to the court’s opinion, Kratz asked Van Groll if she was “the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA … the riskier the better?” He also called her a “hot nymph” and called himself “the prize.”
According to the opinion, Kratz told a Calumet County social worker that he wanted a trial to be over because he wanted to leave for a trip to Vegas, where he could have “big boobed women serve me drinks.” He also told another social worker that a reporter had “big beautiful breasts.”
In the opinion, the court lambasted Kratz’s attempts to defend himself in the case, saying he had “employed a tooth-and-nail litigation approach.” He had asked the court to give him credit for the five months he stopped practicing law following the scandal, a request the referee and court denied.
According to the opinion:
“He raised arguments that ranged from the incredible (e.g., disputing his text messages to S.V.G. contained sexual overtones); to the hyper-technical (claiming the OLR complaint was barred by the civil doctrines of issue and claim preclusion because an OLR investigator initially declined to forward S.V.G.’s grievance for formal investigation); to the inconsistent (denying any recollection of making inappropriate comments to S.S. but claiming credit for having recognized their inappropriateness and apologized); to the puzzling (arguing that he could not have told R.H. that a reporter had ‘big beautiful breasts’ because the reporter in question was beautiful, but not large breasted).”
Justice David Prosser wrote a partial dissent to the opinion, saying it was unfair to make Kratz pay for the proceedings. He based this, in part, on his assertion that the OLR mishandled the case.
“He went through a divorce. He lost his home and his car … he filed for bankruptcy. It is unlikely that Attorney Kratz is in any position to pay $23,904.10 in court costs,” according to Prosser’s dissent. “These extravagant costs will pose a serious hardship to Attorney Kratz, cannot be justified on the basis of the OLR prosecution, and are manifestly unfair.”
Prosser also said the matter “became a political issue” following Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s decision not to pursue criminal charges.
Van Groll sued Kratz in federal court. The case was later settled.Follow @eheisigWLJ