President nominates Polite for U.S. Attorney in New Orleans

President Barack Obama on Thursday officially nominated Kenneth Polite Jr. to serve as New Orleans’ next U.S. attorney and begin the U.S. Senate confirmation process.

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in February recommended the 37-year-old New Orleans attorney to serve as the next U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Polite, who also is a state civil service commissioner, would fill the void left by embattled former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who resigned in December amid a scandal concerning two top prosecutors anonymously criticizing judges and defendants online.

Dana J. Boente, of Virginia, is serving as the interim U.S. attorney.

“Kenneth Polite’s legal career has been distinguished and impressive,” Obama said in the announcement. “I am confident that, as a U.S. Attorney, he will be relentless in his pursuit of justice and serve the people of Louisiana with distinction.”

Polite said he would refrain from further comment on the matter during the confirmation process. He issued a prepared statement, saying that he is honored by the president’s nomination.

“I appreciate Sen. Landrieu’s support and look forward to the confirmation process,” Polite stated. “If confirmed by the Senate, I will serve without reservation.”

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., announced that he will not attempt to block Polite’s confirmation process — a right Vitter reserves — despite admitted concerns about Polite’s level of experience.

“Ken is a bright young guy, and I wish him all the best in this very challenging time for that office,” Vitter stated. “I remain concerned that that office really needs a more seasoned leader and supervisor to immediately stabilize it after its scandals, and that Ken’s focus on street crime will unintentionally take focus away from battling political corruption. I hope his service proves otherwise.”

Vitter had instead pushed a few others for the job, such as Pauline Hardin, a partner in the Jones Walker law firm in New Orleans.

Landrieu, however, praised Polite’s “outstanding legal experience, impressive academic record and strong dedication to our region.”

“During the interview process, Mr. Polite stood out from an impressive list of candidates, showing the determination and experience we need to protect the people of the Eastern District from crime and corruption,” Landrieu stated in the announcement. “This is the kind of leadership our region needs to continue to thrive, grow and lead the nation in entrepreneurship. Mr. Polite has the strong backing of our local community, and I will be pushing for his swift confirmation by the Senate so he can get to work for the people of the Eastern District.”

In February, Landrieu, who has the authority as the state’s senior senator in a Democratic administration, opted to recommend only Polite to the president rather than a “short list” as she originally stated. At the time, she said Polite stood out from among the potential options.

Polite, a New Orleans native, currently serves with the Liskow & Lewis law firm, where he practices law in business litigation, appellate advocacy, government investigations and white-collar criminal defense. Prior to joining Liskow, Polite was an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he served as lead counsel in numerous investigations and prosecutions of federal criminal offenses, including bribery, extortion, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and identity theft.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is out of town this week, praised Polite in an email response.

“As a proud son of New Orleans, Kenneth Polite intimately understands the issues that effect this jurisdiction and will ensure that we continue to root out corruption and fight crime,” Mitch Landrieu stated. “I hope the Senate moves quickly to confirm Kenneth as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana and look forward to him serving the people of Louisiana with distinction.”

Harry Rosenberg, who previously served as the U.S. attorney in the district, had praise for Polite as well.

“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,” Rosenberg said.

Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand also complimented the choice and spoke well of Polite’s experience and skills.

“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,” Normand added.

Polite was named to the state Civil Service Commission in early 2011 by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Polite was one of three recommendations made to the governor by Xavier University President Norman Francis. This past year, Polite was critical of some of Jindal’s privatization and hospital layoffs plans.

Polite is a graduate of Harvard University and the Georgetown University Law Center. He clerked for U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas L. Ambro.

Polite was born to teenage parents and raised, early on, in the Calliope and Lafitte housing projects of New Orleans, and then in the Lower 9th Ward.

He went on to become the first African-American valedictorian of De La Salle High School in New Orleans before going to Harvard.