MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin's governor said Monday he was deeply troubled by a district attorney who was caught sending sexually harassing text messages to a domestic abuse victim and would start the process to consider removing him from office.
At a news conference five days after The Associated Press reported the messages, Gov. Jim Doyle said he considered Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz's behavior a "very, very, very serious issue." He 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 Kratz.
He said he hoped to have a decision within 30 days but made it clear he found Kratz's conduct repugnant.
Doyle, a former district attorney and attorney general, said Kratz's actions "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," Doyle said. "We will proceed very, very quickly."
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 them, he asked whether she was "the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA," and called her a "tall, young, hot nymph."
Doyle also made public a letter sent last week from a second woman who says Kratz abused his position in seeking a relationship with her earlier this year. The woman claims she met Kratz through an online dating site and eventually went out to dinner with him in Green Bay.
The woman said Kratz talked to detectives about a high-profile missing woman investigation in front of her and gave her confidential details of the case. Afterward, he kept sending 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 claims Kratz repeatedly bragged about his position and his prosecution record, but she ended contact after a "few frustrating days."
Doyle's office redacted the name of the woman who complained, but the governor said the letter was released after his office talked with her. Doyle called 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."
State law gives the governor the power to remove county elected officials such as Kratz for cause, but the process has been rarely used. Doyle has never done so in his eight years in office, and state lawyers were searching for any similar cases Monday.
"Removal? I've never heard of that," said Secretary of State Doug La Follette, who has been in office since 1982.
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.
Kratz has rejected calls to resign from lawmakers, his peers and victims' advocates. Kratz, 50, has been the district attorney in the rural eastern Wisconsin area since 1992, when he was appointed by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He is not up for re-election until November 2012.
His attorney, Robert J. Craanen, said 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," 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 AP, Kratz started sending the texts minutes after he told the woman, Stephanie Van Groll, he was considering reducing the charge against ex-boyfriend — a move she did not support.
At the time of the texts, Kratz was prosecuting Van Groll's ex-boyfriend Shannon Konitzer for felony strangulation and misdemeanor disorderly conduct. Authorities say 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.
Van Groll told state investigators the text messages started coming after she met with 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. She responded that strangulation is a felony.
Minutes after she left his office, Kratz started sending the series of messages.
Van Groll's attorney, Michael Fox, said the discussion of a lesser charge gave the text messages greater impact. Van Groll told police she felt pressured to bow to Kratz's wishes or worried he'd retaliate.
"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," Fox said. "Whether intended or not, it amplifies the harmful nature of the statements he made to her."
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