Van Hollen: 'We thought his behavior was appalling and horribly unprofessional.'
J.B. Van Hollen says he was shocked. The Wisconsin attorney general, in what may be his first in-depth public comments on the issue, told Isthmus Monday morning of his reaction to text messages of a sexual nature sent by Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz to a crime victim last year.
"I was aghast," says Van Hollen, who plans to meet Monday afternoon with Gov. Jim Doyle to discuss the state's response to Kratz's refusal to resign. "This was obviously horribly inappropriate… We thought his behavior was appalling and horribly unprofessional."
Earlier today, Kratz announced that he has taken medical leave, effective immediately, but continued to convey that he does not plan to resign. That drew an immediate rebuke from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who said in a statement: "It is clear Kratz will not do the right thing for victims. We have called on the governor and attorney general to take steps to remove him from office."
The text messages, disclosed last week by the Associated Press, included such bon mots as "Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA ... the riskier the better?" and "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!"
Kratz, in these text messages, even acknowledged the woman's reticence and vulnerability. "Hey ... Miss Communication, what's the sticking point? Your low self-esteem and you [your?] fear you can't play in my big sandbox? Or???" The woman responded with such answers as "dono" and "no."
At the time, Kratz was prosecuting the woman's ex-boyfriend for attacking and strangling her. The woman, concerned that Kratz might not proceed with the prosecution unless she consented to his advances, reported the contacts to Kaukauna police.
The AG's office was then notified, and according to Van Hollen "did everything that was in our authority at the time" to address the situation. This included insisting that Kratz relinquish his role as prosecutor in the case and appointing a special prosecutor, who later secured a criminal conviction against the boyfriend for one count of felony strangulation.
Also, says Van Hollen, "We told him he needed to resign from the Crime Victims Rights Board [which Kratz headed] or we would notify" the board of his behavior. And finally, the AG's office instructed him to report his conduct to the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR). Kratz took both recommended actions.
But OLR later deemed that Kratz committed no ethical violations, a finding that is stirring almost as much outrage as Kratz's text messages.
Van Hollen says his office is now reviewing the law with regard to further actions the state could take. "The governor has called upon us to give him some counsel with regards to whether removal proceedings are appropriate, and if so how to go about doing them," he says. "We've had lawyers in the office trying to prepare information as to how we [can] best proceed."
He says a decision on whether to seek removal proceedings could be made yet today.
As such, he declines to discuss what specific recommendations he intends to make, or to say whether he personally believes that Kratz should resign, feeling this could be perceived as a conflict.
Scott Hassett, Van Hollen's Democratic challenger for the job of attorney general (both Van Hollen and Kratz are Republican), has no such qualms: "[Kratz] should resign or be recalled."
Hassett questions why Gov. Doyle's office has expressed surprise at the allegations against Kratz, when the attorney general has known about them since last fall. But Van Hollen says his office felt the appropriate referrals had all been made, in Kratz's notification of the lawyer oversight office.
"This is a tailor-made issue for [OLR]," Van Hollen says. "Their role is to investigate." He adds that "until this broke in the media," his office was not made aware of the finding that Kratz had committed no ethical violation. "We did not know that it had been concluded or what the results were." He feels this is, under the rules of the road, appropriate: "Unless there's a public reprimand or sanction those are confidential proceedings," he says, with only Kratz and the victim being told of the result.
There is, notes Van Hollen, no rule book for dealing with such matters. "These are proceedings which don't take place every day," he says. "Obviously this type of behavior ...isn't commonplace, thank God. Also, most people who participate in behavior such as this do resign, ultimately, so removal proceedings by the governor are quite rare."
Update: Gov. Jim Doyle, at a press conference this afternoon, said he would begin the process of forcibly removing Kratz from office. The governor also released a letter from a different woman who complained that Kratz made inappropriate comments and invited her to an autopsy as his girlfriend, provided that she wore high heels and a skirt.