Handling of Kratz case appearing to involve possible misconduct
This thing just gets weirder and worse by the day.
Last Thursday we discussed the initial revelation that Calumet County DA Kenneth Kratz had been sending wildly inappropriate text messages to an abuse victim for whom he was serving as prosecutor. My eyebrows were initially raised because Kratz had apparently been allowed to get away with this abuse of his position, only being made to step down from prosecuting the case and from the Crime Victims Rights Board but nothing more.
By Monday it had become clear that Kratz seems to have a habitual problem with making inappropriate advances toward women and talking about confidential court proceedings in front of them. Following the public outcry over the whole debacle, Gov. Doyle decided to weigh in and announce that he would begin efforts to remove Kratz from office entirely.
Better late than never but here's the thing: During all of this questions kept forming in regards to how the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) and the Department of Jusice (DoJ) had initially handled the case. The woman who received the creepy text messages, Stephanie Van Groll, reported them fairly soon after getting them all the way back in October 2009. The police passed the information along to the DoJ, which in turn told him to report the conduct to the OLR, which has far more authority to regulate and enforce ethics rules for attorneys.
And even though Kratz was resistant to even the first, basic disciplinary actions being taken toward him, in March of this year the OLR determined the matter not worthy of further investigation. In a letter sent by the office to Van Groll explaining their decision, it was noted that, "Although District Attorney Kratz's communication with you was inappropriate, it did not appear to involve possible professional misconduct."
There are so many things wrong with this short letter that one hardly knows where to begin. Thankfully, my go-to explainer of the law, Illusory Tenant, is already on the case:
First of all that would be communications, plural. One reason that is important is because, despite the press's concentration on certain of the more "racy" - that's a reporter's term - messages, there are two clearly distinguishable types of messages contained among the lot.
One is of the "racy" type. But at least equally as disturbing are the ones demonstrating the prosecutor's impatience with the victim's failure to respond immediately to the prosecutor's sexual overtures. Those of themselves are a compelling showing of harassment, which the Supreme Court rules of professional conduct expressly addresses.
Peeling away at these several layers of attenuation from a substantive misconduct violation reveals that we have (1) behavior that is misconduct; (2) behavior that is possible misconduct; (3) behavior that involves possible misconduct; (4) behavior that appears to involve possible misconduct; and ultimately (5) behavior that does not even appear to involve possible misconduct.
And we are expected to accept that Mr. Kratz's behavior falls within the latter sphere. With respect, that is an indefensible adjudication.
Hear, hear. Other than internal pressure to sweep such misconduct by prominent attorneys under the rug, I can think of no possible justification for so easily writing off Kratz's clearly harassing behavior.
The letter also made a point to say that "the investigation conducted by the Department of Justice regarding this incident was closed." This is important, because the DoJ's actions should have no bearing on how the OLR decides to proceed. Kevin Potter, the Assistant Attorney General at the DoJ, noticed this very problem and fired off a fairly sternly worded letter admonishing the OLR for passing the buck.
In it, Potter explains that the comment about the DoJ having closed the case "is problematic as it gives the false impression that the OLR and the Department of Justice have overlapping authority to enforce the Rules of Professional Responsibility for Lawyers and impose discipline when they are violated. This is simply not true. In fact, DoJ's knowledge and review of this matter should be irrelevant to OLR's decision-making process."
All of this makes the OLR look very much as though they tried to bury the case and under false pretenses, no less.
In addition to Doyle's claim that he'll be seeking to have Kratz booted, Rep. Terese Berceau is now calling for an independent audit of the OLR regarding how they handled the case. She's also curious how Wisconsin's rates of lawyer discipline stack up against other states, expressing concern that the OLR goes too light on them in general.
And good on her for it. The more I read about this ridiculousness the more I can't help but wonder what the heck happened over at the OLR. Plain and simple, there should have at least been a full investigation of misconduct and based on all the evidence that's since come to light (Kratz's seeming inability to admit any wrong-doing, his efforts to suppress the whole thing, the habitual nature of the offenses), I strongly suspect Kratz should have been made to resign many months ago.
Instead it's taken a ton of media and public attention, not to mention the continued allegations from several other women, to see the wheels of justice put in motion.
So I'm seconding Berceau's calls for an audit, Doyle's move to kick Kratz to the curb entirely, and for far better enforcement of ethics rules for all people in positions of power. Even "prizes" who make six figures need to know that they'll be held seriously responsible for such disgusting and abusive behavior.
Losing the artist's second space
Founded in 2004 and run by the Terry Family Foundation, Edenfred is a 5-bedroom house on the near west side of the city that has provided space to artists of various stripes (writers, composers, painters, etc.) in which they may work, uninterrupted, for days or even weeks at a time.
According to its website:
Since beginning in 2004, Edenfred has provided residencies to over 400 artists, covering nearly all arts disciplines, through its Resident Fellows, Day Fellows and Partnership programs.
It has become a national model for its partnerships and collaborations with numerous arts organizations and agencies including the Wisconsin Arts Board, Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, Madison Arts Commission, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison Ballet, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, Council for Wisconsin Writers, Overture Center for the Arts, Wisconsin Wrights New Play Project, WI-Hessen Writers Exchange, UW-Madison and many others.
In addition, Edenfred has served Madison's arts community as the host of meetings, strategic planning sessions, fundraising events for arts organizations, and a series of topical peer 'Conversations' local arts funding in the economic downturn, the regional creative ecology, Native American literature, for arts curators and choreographers.
And yet the City of Madison claims that Edenfred does not qualify as a "benevolent service" but is instead a commercial property because, as assistant assessor Michael G. Kurth determined, "the property is primarily used by individuals and groups not directly related to the Terry Family Foundation."
Which, based on everything I've read and heard about the place, is simply not true. Unfortunately, disputing the city's findings would deplete the foundation's resources too much for them to continue pursuing that course of action. To their credit, they've recognized that the money that would be spent on fighting this legal battle could be better spent on funding the arts through other venues.
But they shouldn't have to make that decision.
I reserve final judgment until I see a comprehensive report on how Edenfred was funded and used, but I admit that I'm already 90 percent sure the city should be working with the Terry Family Foundation, instead of against them, to see if there is any way to keep this vital artistic resource open.
I for one can vouch for the importance of quiet, uninterrupted time separate from your regular home or office in getting a lot of work done especially when it comes to the arts. By providing that kind of space, Edenfred was helping encourage and foster works by local and more far-flung artists. And it's the only place of its kind in the area.
Surely there must be a better way of resolving this situation one that involves far less red tape, and a better understanding of the important role that places like Edenfred play in a vital, cultured community.
Are the Republican Party of Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, and local Tea Party affiliates coordinating to engage in voter caging of minority and student voters? One Wisconsin Now has uncovered some pretty compelling evidence to support that accusation. I hope a proper investigation into these allegations is conducted, so that if it does end up being the case, it can be stopped. Frankly, the GOP fixation on supposedly wide-spread voter fraud has struck me as one of the bigger straw men they've constructed in recent years. There's little to no evidence to support their claims, and all of their efforts to stop the non-existent fraud generally reek of suppression of those people they'd rather didn't vote at all.
Meanwhile, I was aghast at the results of the most recent poll that showed Sen. Russ Feingold down by 11 points behind Republican challenger and sunspot enthusiast Ron Johnson. WHAT THE HELL, WISCONSIN!? Of course, the blame here lies somewhat with the Feingold campaign (less mud slinging, more honest hustle - rise above!), but I think this has a lot more to do with the current, toxic political environment in the country as a whole.
If the Feingold camp could effectively get out the word about the real accomplishments of their candidate, and the fact that he's not a lock-step Democratic Party voter on things that really count (like the bank bailout), he'd be absolutely creaming Johnson in the polls. The sad fact, however, is the between right-wing media squawkers and the Tea Party's ignorant fear mongering, the voices of really decent elected officials like Feingold are simply being drowned out. I don't know if that can be counteracted in time for the November elections, but I sure as hell hope so. Losing Feingold would be a terrible blow for both Wisconsin and the nation.