Updated at 5:40 PM
It wasn’t until last week that D.A. Seth Williams firmed up plans for the sensitivity training that he promised his prosecutors would receive nearly three months ago, Billy Penn has learned.
On September 4, the Friday afternoon before Labor Day, Williams released in what media commonly refer to as a “news dump” a statement that he would require prosecutors Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Patrick Blessington to undergo sensitivity training because of racist and misogynistic emails they traded in back and forth while they worked for the attorney general’s office.
That sensitivity training happened Friday, courtesy of an all-day seminar from author and speaker Paul Meshanko. Reached by phone late Monday, Meshanko told Billy Penn that he and Williams have known each other since meeting at an Association of Prosecuting Attorneys event and informally discussed Meshanko presenting to Williams’ office before the porny email scandal erupted at the D.A.’s office. But talks about actually having the sensitivity training didn’t happen until last Monday, after several groups and media upped criticism of Williams.
Meshanko said he and Williams were at a conference together one week ago in Washington D.C.
“We compared notes then,” Mashenko said, “and he said, ‘I think I’ll be using you sometime in the near future.’”
Mashenko said he received a phone call later in the week from Williams. He happened to be available for Friday, and they scheduled a last-minute seminar that cost approximately $5,000.
On Friday November 13, Daily News reporter Wendy Ruderman tweeted that she asked Williams about the sensitivity training and was met with “radio silence.”
Last Monday, when Meshanko said he and Williams talked in D.C., state senator Anthony Williams and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women called a news conference to criticize the District Attorney’s office’s handling of the scandal, and called for the three prosecutors to be fired.
In September, D.A. Williams closed out his release about retaining Fina, Costanzo and Blessington with the passage, “Under all the circumstances, I have chosen awareness and education over termination and am directing these employees to attend sensitivity training. Insensitivity often has its genesis in unfamiliarity. That’s why diversity is so important. I have worked to make sure that my office reflects the diversity of the city we serve. We have strong human relations policies, more African-American attorneys than any law firm in the Commonwealth, and as many women as men both in the ranks and in leadership positions. In the year 2015, the times of winking at racism, sexism, or homophobia are over. On my watch, I won’t tolerate it.”
The release, again, was from September 4, the Friday before Labor Day. It said Williams’ investigation into the matter had concluded August 26.
The all-day seminar Meshanko gave to the D.A.’s office was titled “Connecting With Respect.” Meshanko said all members of the office, including Fina, Blessington and Costanzo, were engaged in what Meshanko described as a workshop session that featured lectures, small groups and lots of interaction.
Everyone at the seminar kept a journal and wrote about their takeaways. At the end of the session, the office created a document called a “Code of Cooperation” in which they promised how to better practice respect.
“It’s a document I’m encouraging them to publish,” Meshanko said.
Meshanko said he was aware of the porny email controversy that had engulfed the D.A.’s office.
“I wouldn’t say that this was why he did (the sensitivity training),” he said, “but the timing, certainly this was a good opportunity to launch it.”
When reached by Billy Penn, Meshanko said he was working at a military base in New York. He has worked with numerous clients, including BASF, DuPont and Toyota and many other prosecutors. Meshanko called the Philadelphia D.A.’s office some of his best participants.
“I know Seth’s taken a lot of heat,” he said. “My personal opinion is he’s actually very proactive. He cares about his employees and doesn’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction.”