NEW ORLEANS - From the landmark convictions in the Danziger Bridge case to the investigation into former Mayor Ray Nagin, the U.S. attorney's Office has played a major role in shedding light on public corruption under Jim Letten.
But as he prepares to step down amidst a scandal involving two top prosecutors, that brings into question how well the U.S. Attorney's Office has been overseeing itself.
“I think Jim recognizes the fact that he misplaced trust in senior officials in his office that sold him out,” said Jim Bernazzani, retired special agent in charge for the FBI’s New Orleans division.
Two senior prosecutors, Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, have admitted to posting biting comments online about open cases. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice plans to bring in an interim U.S. attorney and assistant U.S. attorney from out of state.
“Both to sort of look at the operations of the U.S. Attorney's office down here, a fairly unprecedented event,” said Harry Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney.
Those in the legal community believe not only will we see changes in leadership in the federal prosecutor’s office, but we'll also see changes in the way it's structured. They believe federal officials will do what they can to make sure a scandal like the one currently being investigated doesn't happen again.
“I think there's going to be a tremendous restructuring of the office,” said Bernazzani. “Decisions will be made and movements will be made to ensure the integrity of those individuals are in place.”
Bernazzani believes the scandal should prompt the justice department to look into conducting routine polygraph tests at the U.S. attorney’s office, similar to FBI protocols.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys like Jason Williams are reviewing cases to see if they might have been tainted by online comments.
“I can guarantee you this is going to be the squeakiest wheel in the country right now,” said Williams. “[U.S. Attorney Eric Holder’s office is probably going to give the Eastern District here a lot more attention than it's gotten in the past because of this particular scandal.”
Already, defense attorneys in the Danziger bridge case have requested a new trial. A federal judge denied that request for now, but left the door open, lambasting the actions of Mann and Perricone.
Williams believes the justice department will ensure more training is in place in regards to online conduct.
Many legal experts believe Letten's departure alone won't have a major impact on current cases, but the findings of an ongoing investigation into the blogging scandal could.
“I don't think it all depends upon the person at the top, that person leaves and there are still a large number of season prosecutors that remain in that office,” said Rosenberg.
Meanwhile, Perricone resigned months ago. Mann was demoted but remains with the office.
“I think the real key question is not so much their departures as to whether they did anything that rises to the level, which is a pretty high level, of prosecutorial misconduct,” said Rosenberg.
“There are time sensitive cases that are in the works right now and the Department of Justice is not going to allow those to be compromised by any distractions,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Those who knew Letten hope people remember his nearly 30 years of public service, while the entire country looks to see how the current scandal could impact the way the U.S. Attorney’s office is run.
“His heart and soul were in the U.S. Attorney's Office,” said Rosenberg. “He was a career prosecutor. These past couple months were an ugly portion of a stellar career and I hope people remember the entire career and not the last couple of months.”