Paul Murphy and staff reports
NEW ORLEANS – U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has announced his resignation, effective next Tuesday.
"The decision to resign was mine," he said, adding that the decision was not easy. Letten said his resignation is effective Dec. 11, but he will stay on for a short time after to help with the transition.
"It's been an indescribable privilege to serve under two presidential administrations... This U.S. Attorneys Office is strong."
Letten was the longest current serving U.S. Attorney in the United States, getting that distinction after surviving the changeover from Republican George W. Bush, who appointed him, to current U.S. President Barack Obama.
Letten's replacement is likely to be brought in from outside the office and appointed by the Department of Justice. Dana Boente was appointed as interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana to serve as Letten leave the office.
There had been speculation lately that Letten’s position may be in jeopardy after a couple of his prosecutors had been accused of posting sensitive information on a local web site forum.
Eyewitness News legal analyst Donald "Chick" Foret described Letten's resignation as a forced retirement.
"I think it was like a corporate takeover where the Department of Justice swooped in, dismissed Jim Letten, gave him until next Tuesday to leave office," Foret said.
Community activist Aubrey Wallace says despite the circumstances, Letten leaves with a rich legacy intact.
"It's just a certain level of unbelief to see it develop to this extent, but I appreciate him,” Wallace said. “I think Mr. Letten did an admirable thing. I think it's very difficult to lose to someone, but like any champion, you can only hold a title for so long.”
While accustomed to talking at length about wrongdoing and wrongdoers, discussion about misbehavior in his own office has been difficult for the man who was dubbed New Orleans' Crime Fighter for his reputation for taking down white-collar criminals, corrupt politicians and dangerous drug gangs.
The Department of Justice appointed John Horn, 1st Asst U.S. Attorney in Northern Georgia, to head probe into online comments.
Last month, a defamation lawsuit filed by embattled River Birch Landfill owner Fred Heebe outed Mann for posting improper comments on a local news website. While no charges have been filed against Heebe, he is reportedly at the center of a sweeping investigation into contract fraud in Jefferson Parish.
According to the lawsuit and now confirmed by Letten himself, Mann commented under the name "eweman" about ongoing cases and newsmakers from November 2011 to March of this year.
Mann was demoted shortly after the online revelations.
Mann's actions come just months after another senior federal prosecutor Sal Perricone resigned for posting under several fake names including "Henry L Mencken1951."
Mann and Perricone drew the wrath of federal Judge Kurt Engelhardt last week. Engelhardt, presided over the controversial post-Katrina police shooting case also known as "Danziger" for the bridge where the shooting took place.
In his 50-page order, Engelhardt references several hearings about Perricone's postings where Jan Mann was present and failed to acknowledge her on online commenting.
The judge urged the U.S. Department of Justice to seriously consider appointment of an independent counsel to review the activities of Perricone and Jan Mann.
Engelhardt wrote, "The Court has little confidence the Office of Professional Responsibility will fully investigate and come to conclusions with anywhere near the efficiency and certainty offered by suitable court-approved independent counsel. Should the DOJ determine not to proceed accordingly, the Court is left to proceed as it sees fit."
That leaves Perricone and Mann exposed to criminal charges such as perjury and contempt of court.