After ‘big mistake’ over pornographic email, three Philly prosecutors have sensitivity training

Listen
 (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Three prosecutors involved in the “porngate” email scandal underwent sensitivity training on Friday, said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. 

The announcement comes after Williams’ office ignored numerous inquiries from the press about whether the training had occurred and after calls from other elected officials to fire the three men.

The eight-hour training session also included Williams and other 11 members of his staff, as well as the three prosecutors — Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Pat Blessington. The $5,000 session, which took place in Williams’ office in Philadelphia, was led by Paul Meshanko. Meshanko is president and CEO of the firm Legacy Business Cultures and is an author and frequent lecturer on respect in the workplace.

An August court filing revealed some emails Fina, Costanzo and Blessington sent or received when they worked for the state attorney general’s office six years ago. One email sent by Fina referred to motivational tools for employees and included photographs of women performing various sex acts. 

Meshanko, who has a background in business administration, said he did not address the emails — some of which included sexist, racist and homophobic content — directly because others in the training group were not part of the email traffic.

“Everybody knew why they were there, so what I didn’t want to do was create a learning environment that would alienate people,” Meshanko said. 

Instead, he worked with the group to come up with a “code of cooperation” — a set of guidelines for behavior. The DA’s office is still “finalizing” that code, Meshanko said, but it included a piece about “holding themselves to the highest moral and ethical standards” at all times, including over email.

“My perspective is that even the best leaders on occasion do some boneheaded things, and that doesn’t make them bad … it just makes them human,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of evidence that good people, when they’re well-intentioned, can correct course and get back on track. And I would see no reason why these folks wouldn’t be able to do the same thing.”

Williams, who was not available for an interview, issued a statement that Fina, Costanzo and Blessington “are great prosecutors who clearly made a big mistake.

“They have learned from their mistakes,” he said.

Nina Ahmad with the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women disagrees and is skeptical of the training they received.

“This is not unpacking why these three men thought it was OK to participate in this kind of behavior,” she said. “In my opinion, this would not be the appropriate training entity if you were to really help people understand their deep biases.”

Members of Philadelphia NOW are urging Williams to fire the prosecutors. And nine members of Philadelphia City Council signed a resolution calling for the men’s resignations. 

Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced the resolution and said the group is planning its next move.

“We have called for the attorney general to have an investigation and to look into their conduct and to see what laws or rules were broken during their employment, particularly in relation to this pornography that was circulated,” said Bass. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.