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Supporters say Polite is a great choice for U.S. attorney post

11th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

As a number of community-based and civil rights groups continue to call for community input and participation in the selection process for the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, a number of people representing the business community, law enforcement, the faith-based community and the legal profession are stepping up their support for Kenneth Polite Jr.

Those increasingly vocal supporters include Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche, former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg, the Rev. Fred Lu­ter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, and Boysle Bollin­ger, president and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards.

Polite, a New Orleans native, was recommended for the post by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu last month.

“Mr. Polite is part of the next generation of dynamic leaders who are committed to ushering in that change. He believes in the potential of our region and understands that establishing and nurturing the public trust will be critical to this effort. His legal experience and years as a prosecutor, combined with his stellar academic credentials, quickly elevated him to the top of an impressive field of candidates. I am delighted to recommend him as the next U.S. attorney for our state’s Eastern District,” Sen. Landrieu said on February 8.

According to a bio posted on Sen. Mary Landrieu’s website, Kenneth Polite was born to teenage parents and reared in the Lower Ninth Ward by a single mother. Despite his humble beginnings, Polite excelled academically during his formative years at Epiphany Elementary School before en­rolling at De La Salle High School in New Orleans, where each year, he won a competitively-awarded full academic scholarship. Among his numerous distinctions and awards, Polite was named Student Body President, Louisiana Boys State Governor, and Class Valedictorian, the first African American to attain that distinction in the school’s history.

After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in Government, which included coursework in urban public policy at the Kennedy School of Government, he earned his law degree from Georgetown Univ­ersity Law Center. During law school, he served as Editor-in-Chief of the White Collar Crime Project, a nationally-recognized survey of legal developments in white collar criminal enforcement. Based on his law school accomplishments, Polite earned a prestigious federal appellate clerkship for the Honorable Thomas L. Ambro, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Following his clerkship, Polite spent six years as an associate in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, where he focused exclusively on white-collar criminal defense. Beginning in 2007, he served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. There he investigated and prosecuted a wide range of federal criminal offenses, including bribery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and identity theft. Following his tenure as a federal prosecutor, Polite returned to his hometown as a partner at Liskow & Lewis, where he serves as the firm’s hiring partner and head of its white collar criminal defense practice group.

“Kenneth Polite has the experience, maturity and skill set necessary to effectively lead the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said. “Equally important, he has a temperament that will make it easy for him to work successfully with state, local and federal agencies as well as community leaders. I congratulate Senator Landrieu on her choice.”

“Kenneth Polite possesses all the tangible attributes both personally and professionally that make him a qualified candidate for this appointment,” Rafael Goyeneche said. “However it is Ken’s intangibles that include leadership ability, communication skills and his desire to serve that set him apart.”

“Having had the privilege of serving as U.S. Attorney and working with many other U.S. attorneys, I have a sense of the challenges and needs of that office,” Harry Rosenberg said. “After working with Kenneth for a number of years, I am confident that upon confirmation he will be a true asset for federal law enforcement and the public.”

“Kenneth Polite is the right person, at the right time, for the right job,” the Rev. Fred Luter said. “He has the moral compass, intellect and wisdom to represent the United States and the citizens of the Eastern District of Louisiana with great humility and a steadfast commitment to justice for all.”

The position of U.S. attorney has been described by some as a “political plum,” one of the perks associated with winning a presidential election. The post is almost always filled by someone who is a member of the same political party as the president or is considered a political ally. One eyebrow-raising exception was Sen. Landrieu’s recommendation that U.S. Attorney Jim Letten remain in that seat in 2009. The president nominates a U.S. attorney based on the recommendation of the Senators from a particular federal district. Prospective Assistant U.S. attorneys are interviewed by a panel of three or more Asst. U.S. attorneys before undergoing background checks by the Department of Justice. Under civil service rules, assistant U.S. attorneys are allowed to retain their posts when new U.S. attorneys are nominated, appointed and confirmed, U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and cannot be removed from their posts unless they commit malfeasance. Once appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, U.S. attorneys are supposed to ensure that justice is served rather than carry out the partisan objectives of the party that nominated him or her.

Still, it’s important to remember that the politics can never be removed from the process of appointing a new U.S. attorney. “The U.S. Attorney’s job is a plum, a reward for party loyalty, sacrifice made or money raised during the Presidential campaign,” a 2007 article on titled “How U.S. Attorneys Get Appointed” said. “ It’s not about a prosecutor who is so skilled at prosecuting, he or she had a great record. Many U.S. Attorneys have no recent prosecutorial skills.

A number of New Orleans groups including Community United for Change, National Action Now, UNIA and a group of community activists led by Carl Galmon called the Research Team have demanded that they be granted an opportunity to weigh in on the selection of the next U.S. Attorney.

W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of the cable-access show “OurStory,” said the selection of the next U.S. Attorney is too critical to the successful overhaul of the New Orleans Police Department to allow someone to hand-pick a single candidate or play politics with his or her choice. Among other things, Johnson said he is skeptical of Polite’s independence and commitment to serving the city’s underrepresented residents because of the attorney’s ties to Sen. Mary Landrieu and the Landrieu administration.

In a recent interview with The Louisiana Weekly, attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP said that the NOPD’s failure to file a report on an incident during which two Black teens appeared to be victims of racial profiling last month and the department’s claims about its detail policy not being as flawed as was previously thought suggest that the NOPD is incapable of implementing its own reforms as the mayor suggested. King added that the selection of the Eastern District of Louisiana’s next U.S. Attorney is a decision that will impact New Orleans residents in a very big way for a very long time.

“All of this tells the community that this consent decree is necessary. No, we can’t do it on our own, we haven’t been able to do it on our own and there’s nothing that has occurred that suggests that in the future we will be able to do it on our own,” King said.

“CUC has taken an official position along with Carl Galmon’s citizens group, that the community will be involved in the selection process and will hold public meetings to discuss and select viable candidates for the position of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” W.C. Johnson said in a recent interview with The Louisiana Weekly.

On Thursday, Johnson talked about the search for a new U.S. Attorney and the community’s involvement in the process. “Since there is an interim U.S. Attorney sitting in place, the community needs to carefully research and select several candidates who have been active in the New Orleans community at both administrative levels and neighborhood relation levels,” he said. “CUC holds no ill will against Kenneth Polite, but CUC becomes suspicious when Sen. Landrieu only wants to push one candidate down the throats of the people of New Orleans. I know few people in the community that are familiar with Kenneth Polite. Additionally, Mary Landrieu identifies with people and organizations that have been hostile to the Black community and poor people in general — that on its own merit raises a red flag.

“With people like JP Sheriff Newell Normand, Metro Crime Commission’s Rafael Goyeneche, and former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg, the Black community has to pause and wonder what these individuals have done for police reform and/or prosecution of police who have corrupted and denied Blacks and poor people constitutional rights, privileges and protections. Now, the Rev. Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church has his own skeletons to grind. Rev. Luter has been a staunch supporter of Mitch Landrieu and Ronal Serpas. The Black community knows exactly what throne these two anti-Black, anti-poor advocates sit.”

“What ever happened to the call for democracy?” Johnson said when asked about a single candidate being recommended by Sen. Landrieu. “My understanding of democracy is that there are several candidates considered for the position. After close scrutiny by the people, two or three are placed before the President to select. Even if the community selects one candidate, that is the community’s choice. Not several politicians behind closed doors determining which one of their friends or relatives will win the lottery.”

Johnson said he has no qualms about considering a candidate recommended by Landrieu’s GOP counterpart, Sen. David Vitter. “David Vitter has every right to make recommendation for this post,” Johnson said. To most Blacks, David Vitter is synonymous with David Duke.

“To be honest, it has been hard to distinguish the difference between position taken by Mary Landrieu and David Vitter,” he said.

In a recent letter to President Obama, Johnson reminded the president of the city’s decades-old problem of unconstitutional policing, urged the president to consider additional candidates for the post of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and asked the president and the DOJ to investigate the Louisiana State Police for their alleged role in the assault of Sidney Newman and Ferdinand Hunt. Johnson also suggested that an outsider might be best for the post of U.S. Attorney.

“New Orleans needs someone from outside Louisiana who has a proven record of law and order yet compassion for the poor, Black and ethnically cultured citizens of New Orleans,” Johnson wrote.

While he reminded this publication that the Eastern District of Louisiana extends beyond the City of New Orleans, King told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday that “it is fair and reasonable for the Black community to play a role in selecting the next U.S. Attorney.”

The Louisiana Weekly asked Danatus King how much time should be spent allowing the community to weigh in on possible candidates before the Obama administration nominates a new U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

“The length of the process depends on the amount of resources available,” King said. “Enough time should be allowed for the organizing and conducting of at least two citywide town hall meetings regarding the issue.”

In addition to agreeing that a prospective candidate’s allegiances and associations with local elected officials should play a role in who is selected to succeed Letten, King added that the community should be granted an opportunity “to question prospective candidates relating to any ties they may have to local law enforcement agencies and their position regarding enforcing the Consent Decree even though the mayor opposes it.”

In her statement on her official website endorsing Kenneth Polite, Sen. Landrieu praised the attorney’s commitment to public service. Landrieu says Kenneth Police tutored New Orleans youth throughout his high school career. During college, he served as executive director of CityStep, the largest public service organization at Harvard University, with more than 120 staff members serving approximately 150 public school students in the Boston/Cambridge area. During his federal clerkship, Polite reportedly served as Vice-Chairman of a charter school in the Wilmington, Delaware area. When he returned to New Orleans, Landrieu says, he continued to serve the public.

In less than three years, he has served as Chairman for New Orleans College Prep Charter School, Chairman of Breakthrough NOLA (formerly New Orleans Sum­merbridge), and General Counsel for the Young Leadership Council. A registered Independent, Polite has also been appointed to serve on prominent state and local commissions by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, respectively.

*Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the March 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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