Kenneth Polite should be our next U.S. Attorney

Kenneth Polite
Kenneth Polite

In early February, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu sent a recommendation to President Barack Obama in support of Kenneth Polite, a 37-year-old former federal prosecutor born and reared in New Orleans, as the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

According to a Landrieu spokesperson, Polite stood out among an impressive list of candidates. And as we review his credentials, we cannot help but agree.

At The New Orleans Tribune, we are convinced that Sen. Landrieu’s recommendation of Polite is perhaps one of the best decisions the lawmaker has made on behalf of her constituents, particularly as it relates to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in quite some time. As a potential nominee for the post, Polite has both an impressive educational background and top-notch experiences that surpass those of any recent holder of the office.

We intend to keep a watchful eye as the official nomination process unfolds. And we encourage all of southeast Louisiana’s elected and appointed officials to put their support behind this young, but well-qualified attorney. We believe he is just what the Eastern District, which encompasses Assumption, Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne and Washington parishes, needs.

Now is the time for the office and those who work in it to treat their work as a trusted obligation devoted to justice and fairness rather than opportunity to advance careers, build reputations or take down enemies using oppression, intimidation and tyranny.

Yes, now is the time for change.

As such, we are buoyed by the recommendation of Polite; first, because his professional experiences include extensive stints as both a criminal defense attorney and as a federal prosecutor, who has focused on white collar crime as well as criminal activity involving political misconduct as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor. This fact, we think, gives Polite a wider range of knowledge and skills as well as a unique perspective that will be unlike any U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana that has held the office in recent history. We believe he will bring the benefit of his varied and rich experiences to the office, which is greatly in need of strong, skilled, fair-minded leadership, to be sure.

Polite, who is currently a shareholder and practicing attorney with the law firm Liskow & Lewis, joined the local firm after serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which covers Manhattan, the Bronx and six New York counties and has the distinction of being the first U.S. Attorney Office established in the nation. Prior to serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, he practiced for six years with one of the largest law firms in the world.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his juris doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center. He also clerked for the Hon. Thomas L. Ambro, a judge with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which has appellate jurisdiction over New Jersey, Delaware and districts in Pennsylvania.

While his professional background and experiences are paramount in our endorsement of Polite, we will not shy away from the fact that we also like him because he is a young, African-American man born and raised in New Orleans. We are optimistic that his appointment will serve as a positive example for the many young, Black males right here in the city of New Orleans, who can see themselves in him.

We have no doubt that Polite could have continued to make a fine life for himself and his family far outside the boundaries of New Orleans or Louisiana as many of our city and state’s best and brightest are often prone to do as they seek opportunities. Instead, he has made his way home; and as we understand, he has been an active part of the community since doing so, serving on the board of directors of New Orleans College Prep Charter School; as secretary and general counsel for the Young Leadership Counsel; and on the Board of Directors for the Pro Bono Project. His involvements suggest that he views leadership as synonymous with service, and that could only herald good things for the U.S. Attorney Office if Polite is appointed.

Finally, where some might see Attorney Polite’s age as a challenge to overcome, we see it as one of the greatest assets he would bring to the office.

At 37, Polite is sure to carry new, fresh ideas and immense energy to Camp Street. The task ahead for the Eastern District’s next U.S. Attorney is not one for the faint or frail. The person who is named to the post must work hard to restore the credibility and public trust that has been diminished by the recent acts of former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sal Perricone and Jan Maselli Mann, who worked under the now tarnished leadership of recently retired U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

That task, alone, will require proactive steps, determination and drive along with a willingness to be open with the public about the efforts taken to ensure that the dim saga that has cast a shadow over the office and its top leadership does not repeat itself.

And even as a new leader accepts that undertaking, he or she will have ultimate responsibility for the customary work of the office. U.S. Attorneys conduct most of the trial work in which the United States is a party; additionally, they are specifically responsible for the prosecution of criminal cases brought by the federal government; the prosecution and defense of civil cases in which the United States is a party; and the collection of debts owed the federal government.

Though not the biggest, the U.S. Attorney Office for our region is quite arguably one of the busiest in the nation; and as such, it is in need of a leader who can combine both experience and professionalism with stamina and resilience to ensure that the work conducted by each and every one of its employees is done so in a manner reflective of the spirit of the following statement made by U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland in 1935 when he rendered the Court’s opinion in Berger v. the United States:

“The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.

As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer.

He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor– indeed, he should do so.

But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones.

It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produced a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.”

How refreshing it was for us to learn that on its website, the Offices of the United States Attorneys uses that simple, yet powerful statement made nearly 78 years ago to essentially describe why and how U.S. Attorney offices across the nation and in U.S. territories operate—or at least ought to operate.

The U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana deserves – no, it is absolutely in desperate need of – leadership that will align its work with those words.

And with that in mind, we urge President Barack Obama to accept Sen. Mary Landrieu’s recommendation and we implore the United States Senate to approve the appointment of Kenneth Polite as the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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