Official’s Misconduct: Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz’s Treatment of a Crime Victim

The misconduct of public officials is compounded when their colleagues shield them from accountability for their abusive, dishonest, and unethical behavior. Few actions undermine public trust more than officials’ refusal to hold themselves to the standards they declare for themselves, and insist for others.

In Calumet County, District Attorney Kenneth Kratz wrote dozens of text messages to a domestic abuse victim while he was prosecuting her ex-boyfriend for hitting her. Kratz’s messages were vulgar, creepy texts touting his supposed desirability. Crime victim Stephanie Van Groll naturally found his messages wrong, repulsive, and intimidating.

See, Calumet County DA ‘sexted’ abuse victim.

In this way, completely contrary to everything Kratz was sworn and elected to represent, he made Stephanie Van Groll a victim yet again.

There should not be the slightest doubt that Kratz is unfit to serve, and should resign from office. Not merely resign from a committee here or there (as he has apparently done), but from office. He’s elected, of course, but there’s no reason to wait until the next election to send him packing. He is unworthy of exercising responsibly the power he now holds, and should relinquish it.

He needs only the time it would take to write a single-line letter of resignation.

Consider these messages from Kratz to crime-victim Van Groll during the prosecution of her attacker, as reported by the AP:

“Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA … the riskier the better?” and

“I would not expect you to be the other woman. I would want you to be so hot and treat me so well that you’d be THE woman! R U that good?” and

“I’m serious! I’m the atty. I have the $350,000 house. I have the 6-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize!” and

“Remember it would have to be special enough to risk all”

Domestic abuse victims’ advocates see Kratz’s conduct for what it is, as the story notes:

If what’s being alleged is true, it’s sad a prosecutor would use the same sort of power and control over a woman who has already experienced that in her personal life,” said Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Seger’s unquestionably right: Kratz’s conduct is an expression of illegitimate power and control. Having exceeding the bounds of lawful and principled authority, in his conduct toward a domestic abuse victim, Kratz is unworthy of office.

What happened when Van Groll reported Kratz’s conduct to police? Here’s what happened:

“Nothing really happened to him and I had three days of hell,” Van Groll said in a phone interview with the AP. “They gave him a slap on the wrist and told him not to do it again. If it was anybody else that did something like this, they’d lose their job.”

….Van Groll said she went to police on the third day after the messages started becoming “kind of vulgar.” She provided copies of 30 messages and her responses, which the department released in response to an AP request.

“Stephanie feels afraid that if she doesn’t do what he wants Kratz will throw out her whole case,” an officer who interviewed Van Groll wrote.

The department referred the complaint to the state Division of Criminal Investigation because it works with Kratz’s office on prosecutions. Van Groll, a college student and part-time preschool teacher who has moved to Merrill, said she has been told Kratz won’t be charged because “they didn’t think he did anything criminally wrong.”

Kratz contends that this is a “non-news story,” but admitted that he was “worried about it [the story] because of my reputational interests. I’m worried about it because of my 25 years as a prosecutor.”

That’s not the legitimate worry — the legitimate worry is that he’s still in office after abusing a crime victim. Her safety and care is what matters. There is no higher concern.

Kratz contends that legal regulators, perhaps from the Office of Lawyer Regulation, cleared him. I don’t know if they did, or if those of whom he speaks were from that office.

I do know that, in fact, he cannot be cleared while he remains in office: his conduct is inimical to the duties of a prosecutor.

Kratz is an elected prosecutor, with all the privilege in the world, and he treats victims as toys. If one fears the decline of justice, it’s because public officials are no longer properly accountable.

Until they are, they’ll be more of this, once being too often, from public officials in Wisconsin.

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