For his performance as a corruption-busting prosecutor, Jim Letten leaves his high-profile job as U.S. attorney with the plaudits of his boss, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and bouquets from grateful citizens in Louisiana.
But because key staffers of his office posted derogatory comments about active cases on a newspaper website, under anonymous names, Letten’s 11-year tenure in the federal Eastern District will end with an investigation of the office by a special prosecutor.
Letten was the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the nation, and one of the highest-profile prosecutors in Louisiana. He won fame as an assistant prosecutor who secured a racketeering conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards in 2000. Named U.S. attorney by President George W. Bush and retained by President Barack Obama, he’s been a scourge against crooked judges and corrupt cops, post-Katrina scam artists and public officials abusing their offices for private gain.
At the same time, though, Letten’s key assistants were abusing their offices by posting comments about active cases on The Times-Picayune’s web site — particularly ironic, as the paper was an enthusiastic supporter of Letten, who was a careful tender of his public image in the media.
The investigation into who knew what about the on-line commentary will eventually show what it shows. Barring new revelations, though, we agree with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that Letten has done a good job. “His work has really turned the tide against public corruption in Louisiana,” Vitter said.
We hope so, although this is a continuous process and not one that can be accomplished even in a decade.
The post-Katrina revival of the region depends on rooting out public corruption.
“Crime and public corruption suck the economic lifeblood out of a community,” noted Jefferson Parish President John Young. “No one is going to come and invest in a community where there is crime and public corruption.”
That is true, and we hope that thought guides U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., as she considers her recommendations to the president for a replacement. As senior senator of the president’s party, she is likely to be the key adviser to the White House on the appointment.
Because of the prominence of Letten, this office has been elevated in the public eye — and continuing the tradition of effective prosecution is vital to Louisiana and the region.