NEW ORLEANS -- Jim Letten left his job as U.S. attorney a little more than one month ago. He left amid a lot of unfinished business, including the U.S. Department of Justice investigation into online comments by his top assistants, a probe that accelerated his departure.
Letten has kept a low profile since he stepped down, but he surfaced today to give a keynote speech to the non-profit group Courtwatch NOLA.
Letten declined to comment on the internal probe or any criminal cases he left behind, including the highly anticipated culmination of the grand jury investigation into former Mayor Ray Nagin.
But the 12-year U.S. Attorney did voice his opinion on a high-profile civil matter he shepherded, the suddenly shaky consent decree between the city of New Orleans and U.S. Department of Justice to reform the long-troubled NOPD.
Even with the city pulling back from the deal as it was signed last week, Letten expressed confidence that Mayor Mitch Landrieu's reservations about the price tag would be overcome by additional negotiations between the city and the feds.
"There are a lot of monetary demands on the city, they're enormous,” Letten said. “And there is a great need to achieve these things. So, my money is on this process because of Mitch, because of (Police Chief) Ronnie (Serpas), because of the men and women of the civil rights division, because they're all brilliant folks. My money is on making this work for everyone."
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan signed the consent decree on Friday over the city objections. But Morgan is allowing the city to file a motion seeking relief from the judgment.
The city’s motion is due Jan. 31.
Landrieu said the cash-strapped city would be hard-pressed to pay for both the NOPD consent decree and a separate agreement being hammered out with between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office to reform the city’s prison.
"They (the U.S. Department of Justice) have a gun to our head on the sheriff's consent decree and that's going to threaten the financial viability of the police consent decree and that consent decree," Landrieu said last week.
But even though the consent decree negotiations have hit a road block, Letten speculated – with his trademark optimism – that the two sides would come together in the end.
“I like to think about best case scenarios because that’s what you move toward,” Letten said. “So my faith is on all these folks.”