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Letten steps down in the wake of online posting scandal

10th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

Jim Letten, the nation’s longest-serving U.S. attorney, announced his resignation Thursday in the wake of an online posting scandal involving at least two of the top employees in his administration.

Late last month, Letten was lambasted by a federal judge for not adequately dealing with the online posting scandal and failing to answer questions about former senior litigation counsel Sal Perricone and Letten’s top assistant, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann.

His resignation came the same week that the embattled U.S. attorney finally broke his silence to at least begin to answer questions about Mann’s involvement in the posting scandal, during which members of his prosecutorial team posted inappropriate comments about open cases on nola.com. Letten admitted last week that the blogger using the tag “eweman” was in fact Jan Mann.

Letten announced he is leaving his longtime post just a week after he was lambasted by U.S. Judge Kurt Engelhardt for failing to resolve the online posting scandal. In a scathing, 50-page response to a motion from five NOPD officers seeking a new trial, Engelhardt called the online posting scandal “skulduggery by the government” and noted that the online posts at nola.com could result in charges of criminal misconduct.

Still, Letten told reporters Thursday morning that he was not pressured by anyone to step down.

“The decision to resign was mine,” he said, noting that it was not a decision he came to without a great deal of deliberation. Letten said his resignation is effective Dec. 11, but he will remain in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for a short time after to help with the transition.

“It’s been an indescribable privilege to serve under two presidential administrations…,” Letten said. “This U.S. Attorneys Office is strong.”

As an assistant prosecutor under U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan, Jim Letten gained national attention with the successful prosecution of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards in 2000.

In recent years, Letten has gained more national attention for successfully prosecuting judges, several members of the New Orleans City Council, a former Jefferson Parish president, former school board members and a number of individuals connected to nonprofit groups and post-Katrina recovery efforts.

At the time of his resignation, he appeared to be very close to indicting former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Two of the former mayor’s former associates have entered guilty pleas in federal court, including Destrehan businessman Rodney Williams last week, who has been charged with bribing a public official.

Four years ago, Sen. Mary Landrieu was sharply criticized by some local Black leaders who disagreed with her decision to allow Letten, a George W. Bush appointee, to remain U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana after Obama was elected. Landrieu defended Letten against claims that he unfairly targeted local Black elected officials, saying that Letten’s record shows he has also investigated and prosecuted a number of white elected officials.

Letten was subsequently criticized for not taking on the Danziger Bridge case after Judge Raymond Bigelow tossed out then Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan’s indictment of the NOPD officers involved in the killing of two residents and the wounding of four others on the eastern New Orleans bridge just days after Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005.

After President Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, Dr. Romell Madison and other members of his family traveled to Washington, D.C. several times to meet with members of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s administration about the case. Ronald Madison, Dr. Madison’s brother, was a mentally disabled man killed by NOPD officers on the Danziger Bridge.

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the appointment of John Horn, a first assistant U.S. attorney in Georgia, to investigate the online posts and leaks.

“Jim Letten is a friend,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Thursday. “He has been a great partner for the City of New Orleans as we fight public corruption and violent street crime. I look forward to working with President Obama and Senator Landrieu so that the next United States Attorney can be an effective prosecutor against public corruption and street crime.”

“I want to thank U.S. Attorney Jim Letten for his long career of service to the Eastern District and our state,” U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said Thursday. “While the recent revelations of wrongdoing within his office are indeed troubling, his record of rooting out public corruption is to be commended. I thank him for his 12 years of service as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and wish him well in his future endeavors. He will continue to be an asset for our community.

“Today’s personnel changes within the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District are a necessary step toward maintaining public trust in an institution charged with fighting corruption and keeping the people of the Eastern District safe,” Landrieu added. “ I commend Attorney General Holder on naming Dana J. Boente — a well-respected 1st Assistant Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia — to the interim post, as well as his appointment of John A. Horn of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, who will be charged with getting to the bottom of the recent controversy within the office.

“In the coming weeks, after consultation with local leaders and members of the legal community, I will forward a short list of qualified individuals to Attorney General Holder and the White House for their consideration for our next U.S. attorney. The people of the Eastern District expect and deserve an open and efficient process for determining their next U.S. attorney, and I look forward to working with Attorney General Holder and the entire community to find the most qualified individual for the post.”

“I would like to thank Jim Letten for his nearly 12-year tenure as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said Thursday in a prepared statement. “I hope Mr. Letten’s successor will continue to build on his legacy and accomplishments as the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country. Moving forward, I am committed to working with the Department of Justice to address the recent allegations of misconduct.”

Some Black leaders and residents saw the former U,S. attorney as less of a hero than he was presented as by mainstream media organizations.

I’m not buying any of that,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former congressional candidate and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly. “The NOPD got away with killing a lot of Black people and violating the constitutional rights of many others during Jim Letten’s time as U.S. attorney, He allowed the NOPD to continue to get away with murder and corruption instead of taking initiative and rooting out bad cops and administrators. Where was he when Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Raymond Robair and Henry Glover were being murdered? Why didn’t he say anything or show any interest when a local judge threw out charges against the so-called ‘Danziger 7’? Where was he when Wendell Allen and Justin Sipp were being gunned down by cops?”

“During his resignation press conference, U.S. Attorney Letten spoke of the ‘Culture of Good Works’ his office was able to establish under his leadership and the enthusiasm this legacy may continue long after he has gone.” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of cable-access show “OurStory,” said Thursday.

“That is a self-serving interpretation from a man who always presented himself as the ‘Law Enforcer’s Enforcer.’ Yet when it came to enforcing the law within Jim’s bailiwick, Jim Letten became confused and out of touch with reality. The years Jim Letten spoke so admirably about were years that found Blacks in New Orleans literally begging and pleading for justice on issues that were complex and convoluted with questionable actions from public officials and other law enforcement agencies.

‘Quite notable was the Danziger Bridge Massacre where family members of dead and wounded victims reached out for U.S. Constitutional protections, rights and privileges to grant closure to actions and behaviors that constituted federal violations,” Johnson added. “Jim Letten refused to extend the clock of federal protection to those who were entitled, forcing extreme financial hardships on those family members who insisted on justice for their family members. It was not until the Department of Justice (DOJ), in Washington D.C. was convinced to investigate the Danziger Bridge Massacre that any relief manifested. It was this turn of events that uncovered watersheds of U.S. Constitutional violations on the Black population of New Orleans. Federal violations that had been brought before Jim Letten on numerous occasions were all cast to the blatant recusal of Federal Jurisdiction by Jim Letten for the Eastern District of Louisiana.”

“As Jim Letten’s made-for-primetime T.V. press conference tried to touch the hearts for sympathy and the mind for historical record, the Black community cannot be tricked into offering an olive branch to a man and an office that has allowed what the DOJ documented as a ‘Culture of Cor?ruption’ and a ‘Climate of Crisis’ that allowed the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) to rain terror down on the Black community of New Orleans,” W.C. Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “And the Black community cannot forget the many letters and e-mails that went out to the DOJ in the past two years complaining about the insensitivity of Jim Letten concerning the questionable activities of NOPD Chief of Police Ronal Serpas while federal investigations were continuing with the NOPD.

“New Orleans has a checkered past when it comes to law enforcement and intervention from federal authorities. From the Civil War to Jan Mann, questions of the rich verses the poor, privilege verses pauper when dealing with the law. After all, the senior Senator, Mary Landrieu, fought hard and long for Jim Letten’s retention under a new Democratic Administration. One would have to wonder if there is any questionable deprivation of Black community rights with Mary’s brother, Mitch, being the Mayor of New Orleans. We all know when a house of cards begins to fall, they all come tumbling down.

“Can the Black community hope that Jim Letten’s departure is just the beginning? Will Mitch and Mary follow? Stay tuned for ‘As the Urn Turns.’”

“I won’t shed a tear after the downfall of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and founder of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “He has not proven to be much of a hero or a friend to the Black community in New Orleans.

“What AG Eric Holder and others with the power to turn things in New Orleans need to do is identify and appoint a U.S. attorney who respects the United States Constitution and is not afraid of ruffling feathers or stepping on the toes of those who believe that the systematic oppression of Black people and the poor,

“We need a U.S. attorney who is willing to fight for justice for all, regardless of skin color, income or pedigree.”

Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards couldn’t resist poking fun at the former prosecutor who led the charge to convict him of racketeering charges by reminding a Baton Rouge television news station about an old adage about the bodies of one’s enemies floating down a river.

“Sit by the river long enough,” the charismatic former governor told WAFB Thursday. “I did.”

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article was originally published in the December 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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