Jim Letten

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James B. Letten
Jim Letten US Attorney.jpg
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana
In office
April 30, 2001 – December 11, 2012 (resigned)
Appointed by George W. Bush (retained in office by Barack Obama)
Preceded by Eddie J. Jordan Jr.
Succeeded by Kenneth Polite
Personal details
Born September 12, 1953
New Orleans, Louisiana
Alma mater University of New Orleans
B.A., 1976
Tulane University Law School
J.D., 1979

James B. "Jim" Letten (born September 12, 1953) is an American attorney. A career prosecutor, Letten served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana for more than eleven years.[1] By the time Letten resigned as U.S. Attorney in December 2012, he was the longest-serving U.S. Attorney in the country.

After stepping down, Letten joined Tulane University Law School as an assistant dean. Letten later became of counsel with the firm of Butler Snow, while retaining his post at Tulane.

Early life and education[edit]

Letten was born at Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans on September 12, 1953.[2] He is the only son of Alden and Dorothy "Dot" Letten; his father was a steel fabricator.[2]

Letten graduated from De La Salle High School in 1971.[2] He received his B.A. from the University of New Orleans in 1976 and his J.D. from the Tulane University Law School in 1979.[2][3]

Legal career[edit]

Letten worked for Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. for four years.[2] In 1982, Letten became a federal prosecutor, beginning on an organized crime strike force.[2] He was part of the team that prosecuted several leaders of the New Orleans mafia and figures from the New York crime families.[2]

From 1994 to 2001, Letten was first assistant U.S. attorney under then-U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. (who later became Orleans Parish district attorney).[2] In that position Letten was best known as the lead prosecutor in the racketeering trial of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards.[2][4] Letten also prosecuted former state representative David Duke.[5]

Tenure as U.S. Attorney[edit]

Letten is a Republican, having been appointed to the U.S. Attorney's position by President George W. Bush. Nonetheless, when Republicans lost the Presidency to Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, many Democrats, including U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, took the unusual step of urging the new President to reappoint Letten.[6]

As U.S. Attorney, Letten became known for his "successful prosecutions of public officials," ranging from corrupt elected officials to corrupt judges, police officers, and school officials.[7] The New York Times described him as "a popular crusader against the crooked traditions of Louisiana public servants."[4]

The Times-Picayune listed the following as the notable public corruption cases in which the U.S. Attorney's Office achieved convictions under Letten's leadership: "ex-Jefferson Parish Judges Ronald Bodenheimer and Alan Green; former Orleans Parish School Board President Ellenese Brooks-Simms; ex-state Sen. Derrick Shepherd; former St. Tammany Parish Councilman Joe Impastato; a whole bunch of folks who worked for or did business with the Orleans Parish School Board; several high-profile associates of ex-Mayor Marc Morial; and ex-New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who had been pegged as a front-runner in the 2010 mayor's race."[8] These successes gained Letten bipartisan support, including from both Louisiana's U.S. Senators, Democrat Landrieu and Republican David Vitter.[8]

In September 2009, the Times-Picayune praised Letten and the FBI for "bringing to justice" Bill Hubbard, who resigned as Saint John Parish president after receiving bribes of $20,000 from contractors.[9]

After being retained in office by President Obama, Letten pursued a number of federal civil rights investigations into the New Orleans Police Department, a priority of the Obama administration's Department of Justice.[4]

In 2010, the conservative provocateur videographer/prankster James O'Keefe, "who specialized in often deceptively edited undercover camera work to expose what he considers to liberal hypocrisies," pleaded guilty to federal misdemeanor charges of entering the New Orleans offices of Senator Landrieu in disguised as a telephone and attempting to tamper with the office's phone system under false pretenses.[10][11] (O'Keefe and fellow activists entered Landrieu's office disguised as telephone repairmen and attempted to tamper with office phones, leading to their prosecution.[10] (Although the U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuted the case, Letten recused himself because he knew the father of one of the men involved).[10] In July 2013 (after Letten has left the U.S. Attorney's office and become assistant dean at Tulane law school), O'Keefe appeared at Letten's home, where he complained to Letten's wife about his prosecution, and then confronted Letten on the Tulane campus, leading to a tense videotaped exchange in which Letten called O'Keefe "scum" and told him to "stay away from my family."[10][11][12]

In December 2012, Letten resigned as U.S. Attorney, following revelations that senior prosecutors in Letten's office "had been making provocative, even pugnacious comments about active criminal matters and other subjects under aliases at nola.com, the Web site of The Times-Picayune newspaper."[4] Senator Mary Landrieu and Attorney General Eric Holder paid tribute to Letten's service.[4]

In private practice and as assistant dean at Tulane[edit]

In February 2013, Letten was appointed assistant dean of experiential learning at Tulane University Law School, his alma mater. Letten is in charge of the school's moot-court competition and six legal clinics.[3][13]

In November 2015, Letten joined the New Orleans office of the law firm Butler Snow LLP as of counsel. Letten works with the firm's investigations and white-collar crimes group. He continues to simultaneously serve as Tulane assistant dean.[7][14]

Naval service[edit]

Letten served in the United States Naval Reserve for two decades and retired as a commander. Letten was an naval intelligence officer, with roles including (among others) counter-intelligence and intelligence analysis. He spent more than twelve years as a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Letten has been married to JoAnn Letten for over thirty years; they have two children.[3]

Letten has been noted for his "trademark" bushy mustache.[15][16][17]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Becky Borer, "Letten: New Orleans' Future Depends on Tackling Crime, Corruption" on the web site of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, posted 2006 November 08 from the Associated Press via the Times-Picayune (New Orleans).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Allen Johnson Jr., Letten Loose, New Orleans Magazine (October 2007).
  3. ^ a b c d James B. Letten, Assistant Dean for Experiential Learning, Tulane University Law School (accessed December 18, 2015).
  4. ^ a b c d e Campbell Robertson, Crusading New Orleans Prosecutor to Quit, Facing Staff Misconduct, New York Times (December 6, 2012).
  5. ^ New Orleans Black Leaders Accuse Letten of Racism in Indictments on Bayoubuzz.com, 2009 May 28. See also Rick Jervis, Feds take aim at corruption by officials in New Orleans in USA Today, 2007 October 19.
  6. ^ Landrieu Recommends Bagneris, Letten, May for Key Federal Appointments in Eastern District on Senator Landrieu's web site, 2009 April 27 (retrieved 2009 June 06).
  7. ^ a b Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten joins Butler Snow law firm, Associated Press (November 4, 2015).
  8. ^ a b Stephanie Grace, Louisiana U.S. Attorney Jim Letten is Obama's kind of prosecutor, Times-Picayune (December 11, 2008).
  9. ^ Another crook bites the dust, Times Picayune (September 25, 2009), Saint Tammany Edition, p. B4.
  10. ^ a b c d Jennifer Koons, Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten Unloads on Conservative Prankster James O'Keefe, Main Justice (August 26, 2013).
  11. ^ a b Journalist provocateur James O'Keefe posts video of confrontation with Jim Letten, New Orleans Times-Picayune (August 26, 2013).
  12. ^ Steven Nelson, Furious Tulane Dean Calls James O'Keefe 'Hobbit,' 'Nasty Little Cowardly Spud': Former U.S. attorney lets O'Keefe have it: 'You are less than I can ever tell you. You are scum.', U.S. News & World Report (August 26, 2013).
  13. ^ John Pope, Jim Letten appointed an assistant dean at Tulane Law School, New Orleans Times-Picayune (February 14, 2013).
  14. ^ Butler Snow LLP, Tulane Law Assistant Dean and Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten Joins Butler Snow in New Orleans (press release) (November 4, 2015).
  15. ^ Letten plans to stay involved in community after exit, WWL-TV (December 12, 2012).
  16. ^ Andrew Ramonas, He's a Good U.S. Attorney with a "Sweet Mustache", Main Justice (March 26, 2010).
  17. ^ Laura McKnight, Promoting the power of the stache, Houma Courier (March 25, 2010).