The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has suspended an attorney after finding that he engaged in unethical conduct. In re Disciplinary Proceedings Against Kratz, a Wisconsin district attorney met with the victim of domestic abuse to discuss the case, which he was prosecuting against her ex-boyfriend. After the meeting, the attorney and the victim exchanged personal cell phone numbers. Over the following three days, the attorney sent the woman 30 text messages, some of which contained sexually explicit language that the woman felt was offensive.
She then went to the police, who referred the matter to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (“DOJ”). The DOJ reviewed the messages, but determined that the attorney’s conduct was not criminal. The Department urged the attorney to withdraw from the case and to report himself to the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation (“OLR”). The attorney complied with the DOJ’s request.
The OLR began an investigation, which uncovered two other instances of inappropriate behavior. The attorney had also made a sexual comment to a social worker, who was nervous prior to giving testimony in a termination of parental rights case. The attorney had also made an inappropriate comment to a second social worker about a court reporter’s physical appearance.
The OLR then filed a disciplinary complaint against the attorney, who pled no contest to six counts. The remaining counts were dismissed and a disciplinary hearing was held before a special referee to determine appropriate sanctions. The referee determined that the attorney engaged in misconduct and recommended a four month suspension from the practice of law.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin reviewed the recommendation and found that the attorney’s attempt to engage in a personal relationship with the victim constituted an impermissible conflict of interest in violation of Supreme Court Rule 20:1.7(a). The Court also found that his comments to the victim and the social workers violated SCR 20:8.4(i), which prohibits sexual harassment. Considering the nature of the attorney’s comments and that he only cooperated after the victim went to the police, the Court held that a four month suspension was warranted and entered such a judgment.