City Council Members: “Porngate” Prosecutors Should Resign

The binder of Porngate emails, available at the Supreme Court Office of Prothonotary at City Hall. | Joel Mathis

The binder of Porngate emails, available at the Supreme Court Office of Prothonotary at City Hall. | Joel Mathis

Nine members of Philadelphia City Council signed a resolution calling for the resignation of three city prosecutors involved in the Porngate email scandal. The resolution was sponsored by Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who was one of the leaders of a press conference of City Councilwomen last week.

In addition to Bass, Jannie Blackwell, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Wilson Goode Jr., William Greenlee, Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones Jr., Marian Tasco, and Maria Quinones Sanchez signed on to the resolution. The full City Council will vote for it next week; with the support of that many members, it will pass.

They join State Sen. Anthony Williams, Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty and even Milton Street in calling for the jobs of city prosecutors Patrick Blessington, E. Marc Costanzo and Frank Fina. The three worked for the state when they received emails on state accounts from colleagues that many have deemed pornographic and/or offensive.

Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams has said the three have been disciplined, and ordered to undergo sensitivity training; Williams said only Fina sent such emails.

“Who conducted it? When was it conducted? What kind of training was it?” Bass told City Council today. “These are all very valid questions that the citizens of the city of Philadelphia want to have answered. And we call on our district attorney to do the right thing and tell us.”

Williams talked to Citified’s Holly Otterbein about Porngate in September. “I know Frank Fina and Pat Blessington and Marc Costanzo,” he told her. “Could they in the heart of their hearts have things I don’t know? Yeah, I don’t know what’s in the heart of everyone. But from what they demonstrated as employees here, from their work product, from people who go to lunch with them, from people reviewing their emails here, I can safely say that I think that they can operate and be productive and add to the District Attorney’s office here in Philadelphia as we try to mete out justice for everybody.”

In state-level developments in the porngate scandal, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin called for the Judicial Conduct Board to wrap up its investigation and forward the case directly to the Court of Judicial Discipline. (JCB investigates ethics violations and files charges; CJD decides cult or innocence, and imposes punishment.)

Eakin was the “John Smith” who received pornographic and offensive emails. After the Daily News reported he was a friend who helped out Eakin’s re-election bid, JCB chief counsel Robert Graci stepped aside from the investigation.

“In an effort to alleviate any mistrust of the process, I have asked the Judicial Conduct Board to forgo further deliberation of this matter, and remove the matter to the Court of Judicial Discipline immediately,” Eakin said in a statement. “The Board’s process is set forth in the Constitution and involves confidentiality, which has led to unfortunate and wholly misguided accusations against the integrity of its process, as well as the integrity of the Board’s members and staff.

“The CJD, however, is not bound by the same strictures and allows a fuller airing of the facts before a dispassionate body, which will have the opportunity to express without hyperbole the reasoning behind whatever result the Court may reach. It is my fervent hope that advancing the Constitutional procedure will in the end assure public confidence in the process, and its result.”

Katie McGinty Calls on D.A. Seth Williams to Fire “Porngate” Lawyers

Businesswoman and former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty has run a solid campaign, building a network and achieving fundraising success. But most important, she, unlike opponents Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord, stayed away from attacking Wolf. Given that, combined with Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s implosion and much of the Democratic establishment disliking former congressman Joe Sestak, watch for the articulate McGinty to quickly become the frontrunner against freshman Pat Toomey in 2016.

Katie McGinty

U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty on Wednesday waded into the “Porngate” controversy, calling on Philadelphia’s top prosecutor, Seth Williams, to fire scandal-tarred lawyers in his office and saying that a state Supreme Court justice should resign over the matter.

“As a woman and the mother of three girls, I am appalled by the misogynistic, homophobic, and racist messages that were sent by these officials,” McGinty, a Democrat, said in a series of early afternoon tweets on the issue.

Read more »

Milton Street Finally Brought Porn to City Hall Yesterday — and It Was the Right Call

Yesterday the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women gathered at City Hall with several City Councilwomen to demand that District Attorney Seth Williams fire three of his employees: Frank Fina, Pat Blessington and Marc Constanzo. The three men, now prosecutors for the City of Philadelphia, were all involved in Porngate, the snappy name for the scandal that erupted after the discovery of a glut of pornographic, misogynistic, racist and homophobic emails written and distributed on state computers.

In reviewing the conduct of his employees, Williams has said that he will not fire them; rather, he’ll have them go through sensitivity training. The members of NOW and the five City Councilwomen feel this is not enough. The question, if you boil it down, is whether these men can perform their jobs responsibly, fairly and effectively — including prosecuting sex crimes — given the attitudes reflected in the emails. Williams says yes; NOW and the Councilwomen say no.

Yesterday one woman after another stood behind a podium to talk about the old boys network, the lack of judgment, and why women need to be respected. There was a lot of back-patting: I’d like to thank Cindy for this, I’d like to thank NOW for that, etc. Despite all the words, not much was said. One TV cameraman starting packing up to go even while one of the women was still talking. It was an earnest presentation, but it lacked impact. For a discussion of porn, it was really quite boring.

I don’t say that to be flip. I say that as a former hell-raising activist who spent many hours in meetings about the most effective tactics for making change. Standing behind a podium and talking in generalities was never on the list.  Read more »

City Council Women to DA: Fire Porngate Prosecutors

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

This morning, as promised, the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women held a press conference in City Council’s Caucus room in City Hall to release a statement (not a resolution, they were sure to clarify) demanding that the office of Philadelphia DA Seth Williams fire three of its prosectors who were part of the porngate email chain: Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Pat Blessington.

The statement, which was signed by all five female Council members, noted that “The emails which these men forwarded reportedly include women in compromising sexual situations with captions indicating advancing in the work place requires such acts, depiction of African American babies as violent from infancy, and stereotyping and ridiculing of gay men.” The statement takes specific aim at Fina, “whose involvement in prosecuting sex crimes makes this behavior all the more disgraceful.” Read more »

Watch Out, Seth Williams

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, center, accompanied by investigators Marc Costanzo, left, and Frank Fina, speaks during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, center, accompanied by investigators Marc Costanzo, left, and Frank Fina, speaks during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.

The women of the Philadelphia City Council are mad as hell, and they want District Attorney Seth Williams to know they’re not going to take it anymore.

Tomorrow morning, they are planning to join with the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women to denounce “the demeaning, misogynistic and racist emails” exchanged by former state prosecutors who currently work for Williams, according to Philly NOW president Nina Ahmad.

Ahmad said all of the women members of City Council have signed onto a statement condemning the dissemination of the “Porngate” emails. Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez confirmed this. Sánchez also said prosecutors in the email chain should be fired.

“These people make judgement calls on people’s lives every single day,” said Sánchez. “There’s so much questioning of our judicial system, from the police to the attorney general, and we don’t need to further complicate that with the perception that people making decisions about which cases go to trial think it’s okay to do what they did.”

This is a huge, huge deal. The fact that all of the women on City Council are holding Williams’ feet to the fire … well, that’s a lot of political pressure. And it’s just as interesting that Democrats on Council are calling out another member of their party. Read more »

Utley Suspended for Controversial Slide

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (right) collides with Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (left) at second base during the seventh inning in game two of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. | Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (right) collides with Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (left) at second base during the seventh inning in game two of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. | Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Philadelphia. Here’s what you need to know today:

The Dodgers’ Chase Utley has been suspended two games for a controversial slide that broke the leg of Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada.

He left town at midseason in a trade, but you’d think Chase Utley was still a member of the Phillies, given how much support he received from Philadelphia fans over the weekend after the slide that broke Tejada’s leg. Nationally, a debate raged over whether Utley played dirty or just hard, but Philly consensus seemed solidly on Utley’s side.

Major League Baseball disagrees, announcing that Utley will be suspended Games 3 and 4 of the National League Divisional Series. He’ll appeal, AP reports. “A two-game suspension for a legal baseball play is outrageous and completely unacceptable. Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation — break up the double play,” his agent said. Read more »

How Serious Was Seth Williams’s Review of Those Porny Emails?

Just about two weeks ago, District Attorney Seth Williams announced he wouldn’t be firing the three prosecutors in his employ caught up in the Porngate email scandal. They will, instead, get sensitivity training. If you missed that news, well, that was probably the point. Williams announced his decision at 4:23 p.m., on the Friday before Labor Day weekend (making it this year’s No. 1 news dump, bar none).

Williams justified his call in a two-page statement that was clearly designed to show that he undertook a vigorous review, and found that the employees in question — Pat Blessington, Marc Costanzo and Frank Fina — were good colleagues who had “regret and remorse” for participating in e-mail chains that were “demeaning, unprofessional, and wrong.”

The emails are certainly demeaning, unprofessional and wrong. By the standards of the modern American workplace, that much is indisputable. The 20 that have been released so far are not only pornographic, they’re also spectacularly misogynistic and racist.

But what about Williams’ other conclusions? Let’s take a closer look at four aspects of the D.A.’s statement regarding Fina, Blessington and Costanzo. Read more »

Seth Williams Finally Answered Our Questions About Porngate

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, center, accompanied by investigators Marc Costanzo, left, and Frank Fina, speaks during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, center, accompanied by investigators Marc Costanzo, left, and Frank Fina, speaks during a news conference Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has been uncharacteristically media-shy over the last few weeks.

The eerie silence emanating from his office started on August 26th, when the state Supreme Court unsealed documents showing that three of Williams’ employees — Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington and Marc Costanzo — were part of an email chain when they worked in former Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office that swapped racist, misogynistic and pornographic messages.

Williams issued a statement afterward, saying that he would conduct a thorough review of the so-called “Porngate” emails. But he failed to answer several questions we had, like what he knew and when he knew it.

Then, on September 4th at 4:23 p.m., minutes before the beginning of Labor Day weekend, Williams finally issued the findings of his investigation. He said none of the emails “were created or originated by these three employees,” though all the employees in question had received the gross emails, and Fina had sent some. Williams also said there was “no evidence or suggestion of any inappropriate email behavior by these three employees during their time to date in my office.” For these and other reasons, Williams decided the three employees would not be fired, and would instead receive sensitivity training. Again, this news came in a prepared statement. There was no press conference.

Naturally, we had even more questions. But this time around, Williams agreed to answer them on Wednesday. Our interview with him below has been edited for clarity:
Read more »

Seth Williams Isn’t Firing Anyone Over the Porngate Emails

District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

District Attorney Seth Williams | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Talk about a Friday news dump.

At 4:23 p.m. on the Friday before a long weekend, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams released the findings of his office’s review of the so-called “Porngate” emails in a statement. He did not hold a press conference on the news.

A handful of Williams’ current employees, including prosecutor Frank Fina, were previously part of an email chain in former Attorney General Tom Corbett’s office that exchanged racist, misogynistic and pornographic messages. Those emails, which Attorney General Kathleen Kane says are a key part of her defense against charges that she leaked grand-jury information, were recently unsealed by the state Supreme Court.

Williams said in a statement he is not firing any of the employees in question and will instead direct them to take “sensitivity training.”  Read more »

Brandon Tate-Brown Family Files Federal Class-Action Lawsuit

Tanya Brown-Dickerson, center, is flanked by Asa Khalif, left, and Brian Mildenberg, right, during a press conference in March. Dickerson’s son, Brandon Tate-Brown, was shot to death by police in December.

Tanya Brown-Dickerson, center, is flanked by Asa Khalif, left, and Brian Mildenberg, right, during a press conference in March. Dickerson’s son, Brandon Tate-Brown, was shot to death by police in December.

The family of Brandon Tate-Brown, a 26-year-old man who was fatally shot by police at a traffic stop last year, filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday.

The lawsuit makes the same claims as a wrongful death suit that was filed in April by the family in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, which has since been withdrawn, as well as several additional claims. Attorney Brian Mildenberg said the new claims were based on an investigation that took place after the police department released several documents in June related to the shooting.

Mildenberg said the family “is asking the federal court to certify a class action on behalf of all persons who have been or may be injured by police due to lack of training and operational deficiencies identified by the United States Department of Justice.”

In March, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a wide-ranging, critical report that found that police-involved shootings in Philadelphia had increased, use-of-force training was often inadequate, and the investigation of shootings was inconsistent. It also recommended several major police reforms. The federal government began reviewing the city’s police department after a request was made by Police Commissioner Charles RamseyRead more »

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