Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has recommended that the White House name Kenneth Polite Jr. as the next U.S. Attorney in New Orleans.
If nominated and confirmed, Polite would replace Dana Boente, the interim U.S. Attorney who stepped in to run the office in December after Jim Letten resigned amid a scandal involving vitriolic online comments made anonymously by two of his prosecutors. (Read Main Justice’s report here).
A New Orleans native, Polite is a shareholder at Liskow & Lewis in New Orleans, where he practices business litigation, appellate advocacy, government investigations and white-collar criminal defense.
He was previously an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he won several jury trial convictions in public corruption and organized crime, according to Landrieu’s office. He also argued cases before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
Calling Polite a “true success story for the city of New Orleans,” Landrieu in a news release today noted that Polite was born to teenage parents and reared in housing projects.
He attended De La Salle High School in New Orleans on a competitively-awarded full academic scholarship and was named president of the student body, governor of Louisiana Boys State, and became the first African American to be named class valedictorian.
Polite went on to an undergraduate degree at Harvard University and a law degree, cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center. He clerked for Judge Thomas L. Ambro on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, then practiced for six years in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
“In no other place in America have people demonstrated a greater strength, resiliency and drive to remake their lives than those living here in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes,” Landrieu said in her statement, alluding to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“For the region to continue to build and thrive, it is imperative that we have a strong and proven crime fighter to protect the citizens of the Eastern District and root out corruption where it exists so that New Orleans remains the entrepreneurial capital of the nation.”
Landrieu said his “stellar academic credentials” and years as a prosecutor and lawyer elevated him to the top of a field of candidates that reportedly included 14 names.
In recommending an African-American to the post, Landrieu finally gets to put her stamp on a key federal position in a city with a large, Democratic-voting black population.
She originally deferred to the wishes of Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and agreed to back Letten’s continued service as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana in 2009, after Barack Obama won the White House.
Letten was appointed by President George W. Bush and served 11 years as the top federal prosecutor in New Orleans, before it was revealed that his top deputy, Jan Mann, and another prosecutor in his office, Sal Perricone, had been making anonymous comments on a newspaper website about the targets of federal investigations.
In the end, not even Vitter supported Letten’s continued service, and Letten stepped down in December.
Vitter had backed his own candidates to succeed Letten: New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Jones Walker attorney Pauline Harden, both Democrats. Harden’s experience included serving as both first assistant U.S. Attorney and chief of the Criminal Division in the Eastern District of Louisiana U.S. Attorney’s office. But Vitter apparently failed to secure Landrieu’s support and, as a Republican who has often been at odds with Landrieu, he has little sway with the newly re-elected Democratic White House.