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Williams not firing 3 prosecutors over porn email

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Friday that he would not fire three prosecutors on his staff who took part in an email exchange of pornography while working for the state Attorney General's Office.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Friday that he would not fire three prosecutors on his staff who took part in an email exchange of pornography while working for the state Attorney General's Office.

Williams said the men - Assistant District Attorneys Frank Fina, E. Marc Costanzo, and Patrick Blessington - regretted the emails and would be required to attend sensitivity training.

In a statement, Williams said he had examined the men's interactions with colleagues, scrutinized their emails since they joined his staff, reviewed the cases they prosecuted for him - and found no misconduct.

Despite what he described as false implications to the contrary, he said the men had not been leaders in the circulation of the X-rated material, but had merely been among scores of current and former aides in the Attorney General's Office who took part in the exchanges.

Williams had been under mounting pressure to take some action against the prosecutors since the state Supreme Court last month released a legal filing by Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane that castigated Fina and Costanzo over the porn.

Several editorials in newspapers across the state, including The Inquirer, had urged Williams to take strong action against the men. So had the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Nina Ahmad, president of Philadelphia NOW, dismissed the sensitivity sessions as inadequate. She said the men should have been fired. "They get to keep their jobs and their salaries," she said. "And we get to be demeaned."

In his statement, Williams defended the prosecutors.

"The employers, employees, and colleagues with whom we spoke - and who included both women and blacks - described these employees as hardworking, dedicated prosecutors who were never disrespectful to them as females or minorities," he said.

Fina, Costanzo, and Blessington could not be reached for comment Friday.

Williams said they recognized that their participation in the email exchanges was "demeaning, unprofessional, and wrong."

Kane, like Williams a Democrat, had suggested that he strongly discipline Fina and the others.

Kane, who is charged with perjury, conspiracy, obstruction, and other crimes for leaking confidential grand jury material, has blamed Fina for her legal troubles.

She has said Fina sparked the criminal investigation that led to her prosecution in an effort to hide his involvement in the porn exchanges. Kane is awaiting trial on charges that she illegally leaked information to a newspaper in what prosecutors say was an effort to damage Fina's reputation.

Her critics say she raised the porn issue to deflect attention from the criminal case against her. They also say she selectively released the names of those who circulated pornographic materials to embarrass Fina and those close to him. In all, perhaps 200 or more former or current employees of the office exchanged X-rated emails, along with misogynist and racist jokes.

Those messages were interspersed with a stream of more benign material, including cartoons, political commentaries, and other private material. All were sent on state computers, using state email addresses, on state time.

But Kane publicly identified just eight former officials a year ago, including several top officials in the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican. Of the eight, five lost their jobs.

Kane has never explained why she chose to identify the eight but not others. Critics said she did so because they had ties to Fina.

On her current staff, Kane has disciplined about 65 employees over the porn, including six serving prosecutors. Most were given warning letters. Some were suspended. At least four were fired. Kane has not provided a full accounting of those who were let go.

She has said she fired only those who continued to view X-rated material on the job after she told the staff the practice was forbidden.

Kane has refrained from naming all but a handful of the employees who were disciplined. She said union contracts forbade her from naming disciplined agents, but did not explain why errant prosecutors were not identified, as they have no union protection.

In fallout from the scandal, a Supreme Court justice, Seamus McCaffery, quit the high court after news broke that he had been among those taking part in the email exchanges.

As a state prosecutor, Fina led a team - including Costanzo and Blessington - that won more than two dozen corruption convictions, including the so-called Bonusgate and Computergate prosecutions.

Ahmad, the NOW leader, said Fina and the others needed to speak up.

"Have these people said something to the people they have offended?" she said. "I haven't heard a peep out of any of them."

Williams released his detailed statement late Friday, on the eve of a holiday weekend, a traditional time for officials to offer unflattering or unwelcome news. His press aide said he would not respond to questions.