Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams faced harsh criticism on Wednesday for keeping three city prosecutors on staff after it was revealed last year that they shared racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails while working at the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.
Councilwomen Cindy Bass and Helen Gym went on the attack, telling Williams that the involvement of three of his employees in the “porngate” scandal is inexcusable. The grilling during a budget hearing came six months after City Council passed a resolution calling on Williams to fire the prosecutors in question.
“I’m offended by these emails,” Bass said. “They did not stop the emails. They stand in a position where they have to make judgments, about whether cases are going to trial. They make decisions on peoples’ fates every single day.”
Bass added that, “this is really about three individuals who work in the district attorney’s office right now on taxpayer dollars,” she said. “I did expect that my district attorney would do something about it, and that it wouldn’t require meetings, press conferences, all these conversations over and over again.”
Gym echoed Bass’ concerns, saying that keeping assistant district attorneys Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Patrick Blessington on staff sends a problematic message.
“I really hope that your office does not excuse behavior that is deemed offensive and shocking and off the charts,” Gym said. “They offend the sensibilities of every individual who operates in a functional society.”
The three assistant district attorneys did not share the tawdry material while working at the Philadelphia office, Williams pointed out.
“It can’t be the standard that we fire employees for having received ignorant and repulsive emails from years prior,” he said.
Williams said the unfortunate emails were “part of the culture” of former Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office, an atmosphere that doesn’t exist in the district attorney’s office, he said.
Williams said he reassigned the three prosecutors into different roles, in addition to putting them through sensitivity training. Every month, Williams said, supervisors in the district attorney’s office undergo leadership training, which often involves ways to avoid bias in professional conduct.
“We are extremely vigilant at the district attorney’s office to ensure that that type of behavior does not occur in our office workplace,” Williams said.
He added that Fina, Constanzo and Blessington “definitely made errors in judgment” while working as state prosecutors; however, they shouldn’t be let go over actions that occurred before their employment started in the Philadelphia office.
“They’ve had tremendous careers as public servants, have a tremendous body of experience, wealth of knowledge that we just can’t get by just jettisoning them off and hiring someone right out of law school,” he said.