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After mounting pressure, 3 prosecutors get sensitivity training

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams did little to assuage his critics Monday when he announced that three prosecutors ensnared in a pornographic email chain had finally received sensitivity training.

Frank Fina
Frank FinaRead more

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams did little to assuage his critics Monday when he announced that three prosecutors ensnared in a pornographic email chain had finally received sensitivity training.

"It's a slap in the face," said City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who, with eight colleagues, has called for the firing of the prosecutors. "It only happened because we called for their resignation and firing."

The prosecutors - Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo, and Patrick Blessington - completed the training Friday, according to a release from the District Attorney's Office that said Williams and 11 other employees took the training as well.

The office also announced the creation of a chief integrity officer position but would not say if the move was related to the so-called Porngate scandal.

Costanzo and Blessington received pornographic, racist, and antigay emails while employed by the state Attorney General's Office. Fina both sent and received such emails while he worked for the attorney general.

Almost three months ago, after their link to the emails was made public, Williams promised that the prosecutors would receive sensitivity training.

In recent weeks, there has been mounting criticism from City Council members and women's advocates that the three remained on the public payroll.

Until Monday's statement, Williams had ignored repeated requests for information about the promised training and whether the prosecutors had received it.

"I know that they found this training seminar as instructional and helpful as I did," Williams said in the release. "Frank, Mark, and Patrick are great prosecutors who clearly made a big mistake. They have learned from their mistakes."

The one-day, $5,000 training session was too little too late, said critics who want the men gone.

"This was another message from the district attorney that we're not taking this that seriously," said Nina Ahmad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women. " 'We're going to do something to satisfy everyone that barely scratches the surface.' "

State Rep. Brian Sims (D., Phila.) on Monday became the latest public official to call for the firing of the three prosecutors.

"As a civil rights attorney and a member of the LGBT community, I have been disgusted by the rampant bias shown by these emails," Sims said. "I have zero confidence in any of these three assistant D.A.s to pursue justice on behalf of women or minorities after what we have learned."

Bass, who has led the Council charge against the men, called the timing "suspect," and criticized the decision to have other employees take the training along with Fina, Costanzo, and Blessington.

"Throwing the good in with the bad is unacceptable," Bass said. "And I do not understand why it is so difficult for these people with advanced degrees and years of legal training ... to do the right thing."

Bass said Williams met privately with her Sunday in her City Hall office to defend his position.

"He laid out his case, I laid out mine," she said. "And at the end, he felt his case was very strong. He minimized everything that happened and asked, 'Are you still sticking to your guns?' I said yes, and he left."

Bass said he did not mention the training.

Williams reached out to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys about a month ago seeking someone to do the training, according to Steven Jansen, chief operating officer of the association. Williams is vice chairman of the board of the prosecutors association.

Jansen connected him with Paul Meshanko, chief executive officer of Legacy Business Cultures, who provided Friday's training. Meshanko said he has held sessions for the Army, Air Force, other federal agencies, and police departments across the country, and in May did a leadership seminar at the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

Meshanko said Williams called early last week asking that he conduct a training session for employees as soon as possible.

"I think the situation may have accelerated the timing a little bit, but this is something he believed was important for the office," Meshanko said.

Cameron Kline, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, said Friday was the first full day available for training.

The seminar, entitled "Connecting With Respect," helps "to establish a culture at the top of any organization where respect and workplace civility are the primary focus," according to the District Attorney's Office.

Meshanko said it includes surveys and group and open discussions, and concludes with the coworkers drafting a code of conduct for their office.

Ahmad and Bass argued that one day of sensitivity training cannot change a person's core beliefs or biases. Rather, it simply reminds people of the rules.

"If this is sensitivity training you want to do because that's beneficial to the staff, fine," Bass said. "But I want to know the penalty for the people in question."

Meshanko said the training session was never meant to be punitive and said the three prosecutors were "phenomenal participants."

"It goes to my premise that good people sometimes do stupid things," he said. "And we take ownership for it and we move on and continue to do good work."

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso