Do Lawyers Need More Transparent Regulation?

Post by Randall Ryder

The Governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle, has indicated that he is in process of removing a District Attorney who is currently under fire for sending inappropriate text messages. As the Governor notes, however, the alleged misconduct had already been reported to, and investigated by, the Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR). Do lawyers need to be regulated by an agency that is more transparent to the public?

The District Attorney, Kenneth Kratz, is under fire for a series of text messages he sent to a domestic violence victim while attempting to prosecute her alleged attacker. Kratz started the texts by sending a message to the victim to tell her she could text him during the day and then became more explicit in their content.

Kratz refused to resign following the revelation but did report himself to the OLR, which ultimately said that no professional misconduct occurred. In particular, the OLR noted that Kratz had come forward on his own, and that although the text messages were inappropriate, they did not demonstrate professional misconduct. As a result, the matter did not proceed any further and no investigation occurred. 

After now facing an inquiry from the Governor, the OLR has said they cannot comment on the case because of confidentiality rules and will not offer an explanation as to why there was no investigation. In addition, because the OLR is run by the State Supreme Court, the Governor has no authority and cannot force them to turn over information. As a result, the Governor is calling for more transparent regulation of attorneys. It should also be noted that the Governor is an attorney and was previously a district attorney and attorney general.

In this case, it is understandable why the public wants an explanation as to why no investigation moved forward. The allegations seem straight forward enough and appear to be a clear violation of professional ethics and professional conduct. In addition, given that the substance and detail of the allegations has been revealed, it is unclear what the OLR is holding back from the public eye. If the details had yet to come out, there would seemingly be a better argument for maintaining confidentiality. 

Perhaps one concern for keeping investigations private is that some complaints against attorneys are likely not considered violations of the rules of professional conduct. If those complaints were open to the public, they might still reach the wrong conclusion about an attorney’s actions. In essence, the public needs to have faith in attorneys, and if all complaints were open to the public, they could perhaps lose confidence in attorneys. At the same time, if attorneys are exonerated, what is the harm in revealing the complaint in its entirety? And for situations like this one, isn’t it better if the public knows about possible misconduct?

What do you think? Should attorneys be regulated in a more transparent manner?

Doyle begins process to remove Kratz | JSOnline


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