U.S. attorney has De La Salle roots

    Especially for a lawyer, it’s not a bad last name to have, although the new U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Kenneth Polite Jr., has given up correcting people on the other end of the telephone who insist on calling him, well, “polite.”
    For those who are hooked on phonics, Polite’s last name actually is pronounced “po-LEET.” The 1993 graduate of De La Salle High School is the newly installed federal prosecutor in a region notorious for public corruption, and he believes the Catholic school education he received at both Epiphany Elementary School and De La Salle High School helped form him in his faith and also will help him perform his public duties.
    “I’m not sure how someone can do this job absent having that type of a guidebook,” Polite said.
Imbued with Catholic values
    Polite and his two younger brothers attended Epiphany School, which was staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Faith. Over the course of several summers, Polite attended Operation Upgrade, an enrichment program at Jesuit High School.
    It looked as though Polite might attend Jesuit for high school, but he received a scholarship from De La Salle, which influenced his mother Rosalind, a single parent, to send him there.
    Once he got to the St. Charles Avenue school, Polite, an excellent student, sought out numerous extracurricular activities, especially the speech and debate team, the academic games team, the drama club and the Prep Quiz Bowl team.
    “It was one of those situations where I was very grateful that I was at De La Salle,” Polite said. “It opened up so many doors for me and afforded so many different possibilities for leadership. Getting involved in service and extracurricular activities helped develop some of the skills I still very much use today.”
No fear of public speaking
    Polite had no problem conquering what often is recognized as a person’s greatest fear – speaking in front of an audience.
    “I was in eighth grade, and we basically had a speech and debate team of two people, and we did extremely well,” Polite recalled. “We used to win sweepstakes awards as a team, just the two of us going up against schools that had many more participants. I was one of the things that came naturally to me, I guess. Certainly, my experience in that activity helped develop my skills in that area.”
    One of the tips he received from Christian Brother Michael Livaudais was to always project his voice, and he also learned to speak “more slowly than you think you should.” He credits much of his speech training to Lisa Thompson and Donna Pizanie, who is still on the De La Salle faculty.
    “The speed is the one thing I always keep in mind when giving a speech,” Polite said.
Well-rounded education
    Polite participated in so many clubs and collected so many awards for his service that he was one of the few non-athletes to win a Cavalier of the Year Award given to someone who had balanced academics with extracurriculars.
    “I was involved in a lot of things,” Polite said, laughing.
    The Catholic school education he received had a broad influence on his faith life as well. Polite’s mother is Baptist, and Polite and his brothers grew up attending church regularly with her. When he was a sophomore at De La Salle, Polite and his younger brother Damion converted to Catholicism.
    “It’s one of those things that even now, the role of religion and spirituality in my life is important,” Polite said. “Having a moral compass is important as a citizen, and particularly in my job now, in terms of criminal justice. It’s one of those things that is absolutely essential.”
Sterling educational career
    Polite, De La Salle’s 1993 valedictorian, went on to Harvard University and then earned his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center, clerked for a federal appeals court judge and then served from 2007-10 as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, with an emphasis on prosecuting white-collar crime.
    In 2010, he returned to New Orleans and joined the local law firm of Liskow & Lewis, where he was in charge of white-collar crime defense.
    One of the ironies of his appointment last September as the new U.S. attorney in New Orleans is that he succeeded Jim Letten, another De La Salle graduate.
    “Whenever we get together, we always talk about De La Salle and about all the teachers we had like Dr. (Warren) Caire, Mr. (Don) Stabiler and all the unique stories about De La Salle,” Polite said. “We’ve had some teachers  who have cut across several different decades of Cavaliers, and I’m looking forward to having those teachers around for a few more decades.”
United in fighting crime
    Polite said he is encouraged by the team approach that exists in the New Orleans region to combat public corruption, violent crime and civil rights violations.
    “Louisiana certainly has had that reputation of corruption, but even more damaging is the fact that people here have somewhat internalized that as an expectation,” Polite said. “That’s something this office has always been very vigilant to eradicate. As individuals and as a region, we cannot accept political corruption, and we cannot accept corruption in our law enforcement as something that is the norm.”
    Polite has established a public integrity unit that will deal with allegations of public corruption and civil rights violations. He also has pledged his office to do everything it can “to ensure the safety of our citizens in the neighborhoods and in their houses.”
    “That’s required an uncommon amount of coordination and cooperation among many agencies, and I think we will ultimately win that fight because of the high level of cooperation,” Polite said. “That’s something you don’t see in a lot of districts.”
    Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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