Thursday, September 23, 2010
Woman’s degradation is in man’s idea of his sexual rights.
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Letter to Susan B. Anthony
This week’s news pertains to two Wisconsin district attorneys who have very different views on sex. Both of them are Republicans (which says nothing more than that the Republican party has a very big tent, maybe one purchased used from Barnum and Bailey.) One D.A. fears sex and the other one covets it. Neither behaves appropriately.
Scott Southworth is the District Attorney for Juneau County Wisconsin. In March 2010 a Wisconsin law known as the Healthy Youth Act that deals with sex education in the public schools went into effect. That law requires school districts to “teach students medically accurate, age-appropriate information, including how to use birth control and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.” Mr. Southworth believes that because students are inherently intellectually curious beings, they will, as soon as they are taught those subjects, take steps to determine for themselves their practical applications. That would result in conduct that Mr. Southworth finds offensive.
In a letter to the school districts telling them to stop their sex education programs he said: “[I]f a teacher instructs any student aged 16 or younger how to utilize contraceptives under circumstances where the teachers knows the child is engaging in sexual activity with another child—or even where the ‘natural and probable consequences’ of the teacher’s instruction is to cause that child to engage in sexual intercourse with a child—that teacher can be charged under this statute. Moreover, that teacher could be charged with this crime even if the child does not actually engage in the criminal behavior.” The possible punishment ranges from 9 months in jail to 6 years in prison.
Juneau’s county seat, Mauston, is 127 miles from Chilton, the County seat of Calumet. They might was well be 10,000 miles apart. On September 17, 2010, Calumet’s district attorney Ken Kratz, held a news conference to explain why he was not resigning as district attorney. The news conference was to address citizen concern when it was disclosed that during 3 days in October 2009 Mr. Kratz sent 30 text messages to Stephanie Van Groll, a woman whose husband he was prosecuting because the husband had tried to strangle her. At first blush that suggests that he was an extraordinarily diligent district attorney whose concern for victims was so great that he went to extraordinary lengths to make sure Ms. Van Groll was fully informed about the case and his efforts to prosecute her husband. That was not the case. Those 30 text messages suggested that her pain might be less were she to have a liaison with District Attorney Kratz. In one text message he said: “I’m the attorney. I have the $350,000 house. I have the six-figure career. You may be the tall, young, hot nymph, but I am the prize. [House prices are apparently lower in Calumet County than in other parts of the country since in many places a $350,000 house offered as liaison bait would have little appeal. Furthermore, on line pictures of Mr. Kratz lead to the conclusion that he was relying more on material things than on looks in making that statement.]”. In another text message he asked: “Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA. . .the riskier the better?” One could hope that there were more poetic ones that did not find their way into print but there probably were not since Ms. Van Groll decided to share the messages with the police rather than a bed with Mr. Kratz.
Since his text messages did not have the desired effect and their publication had unexpected consequences, Mr. Kratz, in a display of sensitivity and contriteness, resigned as chairman of the Wisconsin Crime Victims Rights Board and turned himself in to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. That agency did not find 30 text messages to a crime victim proposing a night of love, sufficiently reprehensible to warrant discipline. The Wisconsin Department of Justice investigated his conduct as well and took no disciplinary action. (It may have been influenced by an explanatory e-mail Mr. Kratz sent the department in which he said the text messages were not sexual in nature but simply complimentary, an interpretation not immediately apparent on first reading of the two messages set out above. He further said he’d broken no laws or rules of conduct.).
Although professional regulatory agencies do not seem sufficiently upset to take action against Mr. Kratz, the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association has told him his behavior is repugnant and if he fails to resign it will ask the governor whether there are grounds for removal. Governor Jim Doyle has announced he is beginning the process. There is another possibility.
The District Attorney’s Association could conduct a Continuing Legal Education class for district attorneys throughout Wisconsin instructing them on professional conduct, including their obligation to follow, and let others follow, the laws passed by the legislature. Messrs. Southworth and Kratz should be required to attend. Perhaps they could even be presenters.