NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder was in New Orleans Thursday for the ceremonial swearing-in of the region’s new top federal prosecutor, who took over an office shaken by a scandal that led to his predecessor’s resignation.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. was officially sworn in when he started the job in September, but a crowd of elected officials, judges, attorneys and young students gathered to watch him take the oath of office during an investiture ceremony at a New Orleans high school.
Holder said the New Orleans native is “uniquely qualified” to lead the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Growing up in city’s Lower 9th Ward, Polite had a firsthand view of residents’ struggles against crime, drugs, and violence, Holder noted.
“He came to understand the tremendous power of education and community outreach when it comes to transforming neighborhoods, improving criminal justice outcomes and even saving lives,” Holder said.
Polite said he plans to heed Holder’s advice to get out from behind a desk as frequently as possible to “advocate for justice” in the community. And improving education must be a key component in the region’s fight against crime, he said.
“Our community must rally around our young people,” he said. “We have to cut off the school-to-prison pipeline.”
More than half of the inmates incarcerated in federal prisons don’t have a high-school degree, and the rate is even higher in state prisons, Polite said.
“Raising our male high-school graduation rate by only 5 percent would save us hundreds of millions of dollars in criminal justice system costs,” he added.
Polite replaces Jim Letten, who resigned in December 2012 after two of his top deputies acknowledged posting anonymous comments about politicians, judges and cases on a newspaper’s website.
In September, a federal judge cited the online comments as evidence of “grotesque” prosecutorial misconduct and ordered a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers convicted of charges stemming from deadly shootings on a bridge in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
Neither Holder nor Polite mentioned the circumstances of Letten’s departure during Thursday’s ceremony, which Letten attended.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who recommended Polite for the job, said she had been impressed by his “passion for leading.”
“I literally could not find a more qualified, a more competent, a more enthusiastic young leader for this particular position at this particular time,” she said.