Friday, February 11, 2011

Grant overdue audit of Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation

The following is a Wisconsin State Journal editorial published on Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wisconsin's wimpy and secretive Office of Lawyer Regulation definitely needs a state audit.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee should quickly approve Sen. Mary Lazich's request for a "comprehensive, independent review" that she correctly called "long overdue."

The OLR showed how badly it is failing to do its job last year with its mishandling of the Ken Kratz case. The OLR is supposed to hold lawyers accountable for wrongdoing. Yet it lamely ruled that Kratz's obnoxious and unethical behavior involving a domestic abuse victim didn't constitute misconduct.

Kratz, while serving as the Calumet County district attorney, tried to spark an affair with the traumatized woman while simultaneously prosecuting her ex-boyfriend. Kratz sent some 30 text messages such as: "Are you the kind of girl that likes secret contact with an older married elected DA... the riskier the better?"

The woman complained to police that she felt pressured to have a relationship with Kratz or he would drop charges against her boyfriend. And what would have happened if the woman had agreed to a relationship with Kratz? Would he have gone overboard in prosecuting her ex-boyfriend to try to impress her?

Not until then-Gov. Jim Doyle moved to force Kratz from office did Kratz resign.

The OLR's shortcomings go way beyond one embarrassing case. Lazich cited recent articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel raising "serious concerns about the timeliness, quality and effectiveness of the work of this office." The newspaper found at least 135 lawyers continuing to practice in Wisconsin after breaking the law.

"The system is run by lawyers and is for lawyers," said Michael Frisch, an expert on lawyer discipline at Georgetown University.

State Journal reporting has raised similar concerns about the OLR in recent years.

The state Supreme Court should tighten its rules on lawyers and require transparency at the OLR.

At the same time, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee should approve Lazich's wise call for an audit.

The public deserves a broad and independent assessment.

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