A Philadelphia judge has denied an emergency motion to vacate the guilty verdict of Griffin Campbell - the demolition contractor in the deadly 2013 Center City building collapse - on what Campbell's lawyer argued was "selective racial prosecution."
Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson on Friday denied the motion by defense lawyer William D. Hobson on procedural grounds: court rules require a motion alleging racial prosecution to be made before trial, not after the verdict.
Bronson, however, said he would permit Hobson to try to prove his allegation at a hearing after the 51-year-old North Philadelphia contractor is sentenced on Jan. 8.
Hobson filed his "motion for extraordinary relief" on Thursday, contending that the county grand jury probe that led to charges against Campbell and excavator operator Sean Benschop was supervised by Assistant District Attorney Frank Fina.
Fina is the former state prosecutor accused by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane of using government computers to swap pornography and racial and ethic jokes among a group of fellow state prosecutors and state Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin.
Although the dispute between Kane and Fina is much broader than the emails, the fact that some emails involved crude racial humor gave Hobson new ammunition in his long-standing contention that racial bias tainted the probe into the June 5, 2013 collapse that killed six and injured 13.
Hobson's motion asked Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson to postpone Campbell's Jan. 8 sentencing so the judge can conduct his own probe of the fairness of the process that led to the criminal charges.
Hobson argued Friday that it was impossible for him to raise the racial prosecution issue before trial because events in the Fina controversy "are coming out even as we speak."
Bronson, however, said court rules were clear. The also said he was barred by the rules from postponing Campbell's sentencing as Hobson also requested.
Bronson said he did not see any evidence of racially motivated prosecution because Campbell was not "equally situated" with others who were investigated in the deadly collapse - involved in the same type of alleged criminal conduct.
"No one was equally situated in this case," argued Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron, who prosecuted the Campbell trial with Jennifer Selber.
Cameron also argued that Hobson's motion should be rejected because Fina did not have the final say about who was criminally charged in the collapse.
"The decision was not made by Frank Fina," Cameron said. "The decision was made after a lot of consulting in the District Attorney's Office by the District Attorney."
Throughout the collapse trial, Hobson tried to cast the case as one of the white establishment making a scapegoat out of a working-class, unsophisticated black man from North Philadelphia.
After a two-year grand jury probe of the collapse at 22d and Market Streets, only two people - both African American - were criminally charged: Campbell and Benschop, 44.
Benschop, whom Campbell hired, was operating an excavator to raze a building adjacent to the Salvation Army when an unsupported three-story brick wall toppled and crushed the single-story store. Benschop pleaded guilty to six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment and one of aggravated assault.
The architect overseeing the demolition, Plato A. Marinakos Jr., 49, who is white, was granted immunity from prosecution. He testified before the grand jury and at the trial where Campbell was found guilty of six counts of involuntary manslaughter, 13 counts of reckless endangerment, a count of aggravated assault and causing a catastrophe.
Other principals, such as multimillionaire property developer Richard Basciano and his top aides - all white - were allowed to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify before the grand jury.
Hobson's motion argued that Fina's emails "cast grave doubts upon his ability to be fair and impartial, race neutral, and sensitive to the needs of the African American Community of Philadelphia while serving in his prior role as the lead sole supervisory District Attorney for the Market Street Collapse."
Fina and two other prosecutors involved in the email exchanges when they worked for the state Attorney General's Office subsequently joined the staff of District Attorney Seth Williams.
Public pressure has continued to build from women's groups and City Council demanding Williams fire Fina and prosecutors E. Marc Costanzo and Patrick Blessington.
Williams has resisted. He had the three undergo sensitivity training last month and then reassigned them to jobs where they have no direct role in building or prosecuting criminal cases.