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Distinguished Federal Prosecutor Resigns After Misconduct of Staff

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Jim Letten, a distinguished federal prosecutor in New Orleans, resigned during a probe of misconduct by two of his leading assistants who apparently made anonymous posts on a local newspaper’s website criticizing judges, politicians and commenting on cases. The posts were unmasked by the subject of a federal investigation and filed in court. The federal judge presiding over a probe into police shootings after Hurricane Katrina, said a report prepared by one of the prosecutors under investigation was tainted and needed to be redone

Prosecutors and SEC staff alike have an obligation to protect the public trust and conduct their business with high ethical standards. This recent event is a reminder of that public trust and how breaching it may undermine prosecutions and securities laws cases.

The SEC is not immune to the problem. In 2007, a trial lawyer in the Commission’s Ft. Worth Regional Office sent strongly worded emails to Mark Cuban from his SEC email address. One email stated “Either you are really an anti-American ideologue or your allegiance to making money is significantly greater than your dedication to your country.” The emails were sent during a period in which the SEC was investigating Cuban While the trial attorney’s misconduct did not shortcut the Commission’s case against Cuban, the misconduct created uncomfortable tensions in the case and may still impact its resolution or settlement. The failure of the SEC staff to adhere to high ethical standards almost always opens an avenue of defense for the people being prosecuted.

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