Legal Ethics

'I Am the Prize' DA's Self-Report to Bar Authorities Says Crime Victim Flirted with Him

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Updated: After a domestic abuse victim complained to authorities that she felt sexually harassed by text messages from a married Wisconsin district attorney then overseeing the prosecution of her ex-boyfriend, observers including the state attorney general criticized the state Office of Lawyer Regulation for failing to discipline him.

Calumet County District Attorney Kenneth Kratz reportedly sent Stephanie Van Groll 30 text messages, telling her at one point, “I am the prize,” and asking her, at another, “Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA … the riskier the better?”

Plus, Van Groll contends, Kratz suggested before the chain of texts began that he might reduce the charge against the offender, her ex-boyfriend, from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Subsequently, additional news reports said two other women have complained about Kratz, one of them a law student. Maria Ruskiewicz says she felt sexually harassed when he texted her suggestively after she sought his help in obtaining a pardon of a drug conviction years ago.

And a fourth woman has complained about receiving sexual messages from Kratz, too, reports the Journal-Sentinel, although the article provides no details. The state Division of Criminal Investigation of the state Department of Justice has now established a hotline to which anonymous tips can be made about any other alleged “illegal activity, sexual harassment or other professional misconduct” by the district attorney.

Meanwhile, a Dec. 4, 2009 letter to the OLR from Kratz self-reporting about the situation with Van Groll may shed some light on the OLR’s thinking:

“Other than a possible future relationship, nothing other than a friendship was contemplated,” Kratz writes in the letter (PDF), which was included today in a post on the Proof and Hearsay blog of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. And it was up to the domestic abuse victim, he says, whether or not to stay in touch with him, as he made clear in his texts.

The chain of communication began and ended in October 2009, he says, at a time when he was separated from his wife and contemplating a divorce, after Van Groll flirted with him–and herself sent 23 text messages. He removed himself from the prosecution of the case against her ex-boyfriend “immediately” once he was notified of her “disconcerting” complaint to police about his text messages, thus eliminating any potential conflict of interest, he states. And, he reminds the OLR, he is a longtime prosecutor and, for more than a decade, served as chairman of the state Crime Victims Rights Board.

He never suggested any “overt sexual activity,” Kratz writes, and there was no sexual harassment, only “a series of flirtations” with Van Groll, who “not only engaged in voluntary communication with me (sending 23 text messages herself), but NEVER suggested any communication was undesired.”

Nonetheless, he explained, he self-reported the situation to the OLR, even though he believed he had not violated attorney ethics rules, because he holds himself “to a higher standard than those minimally required by the professional rules” and was remorseful that he had violated the trust of a crime victim whose “vulnerability” may have made her especially sensitive.

In a March 5, 2010 letter to Van Groll (PDF), to which the blog post also links, the OLR says it found no possible attorney ethics violation to pursue:

“Although District Attorney Kratz’s communication with you was inappropriate, it did not appear to involve possible professional misconduct,” the letter states. “Therefore, your grievance will not be forwarded for formal investigation and will be closed at this time. I have, however, spoken with.District Attorney Kratz Io make him aware of your concerns.”

Additional coverage: “As Gov Leans on Wis. DA in Sext Case, AG Says Lawyer Discipline Group Didn’t Do Its Job”

Updated at 6:56 p.m. to include information about fourth complainant and hotline from Journal Sentinel article.

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