March 13-19, 2003
Too Legit to Quit
Photo By: Michael T. Regan
Billy Ciancaglini, budding lawyer and a relative of mobsters, is fighting hard to make good.
Billy Ciancaglini is a survivor. In a family where uncles and cousins have been either murdered, imprisoned or permanently disabled by a barrage of mobster bullets, this Ciancaglini is proving his own resilience. On Feb. 24, Ciancaglini, the beleaguered president of Temple Law School's Student Bar Association (SBA), triumphed over a bid to unseat him from his elected post. However, in the months leading up to the unsuccessful impeachment, Ciancaglini has been a lightning rod for controversy on this 1,100-student North Philadelphia campus.
"This has been one of the more humiliating experiences of my life," Ciancaglini admits, sitting in his small, exceedingly neat home located deep in South Philly. "This year [at the law school] was a horror story."
By all accounts, Ciancaglini, a third-year student at age 32, won the presidency handily last April. In his estimation, though, he has never been fully accepted -- or respected -- by the four other students who make up the SBA's board of governors.
"Since Day One, three or four of them have been specifically against me," he says. "We ran on separate tickets and I was the only one on my ticket who won. Once the elections were over, I tried to work with them, but they never wanted to work with me. I was even told that one of [the vice presidents] was always telling people that she'd do anything to impeach me. And even though she failed, I'm still very upset. So, now I'm trying to take appropriate steps."
Adding fuel to his opponents' fire, last November the school's head dean charged Ciancaglini with abusing his campus listserv privileges. Advised otherwise, Ciancaglini ignored school policy when he used the electronic mail system to respond angrily to a faculty member with whom he was having a disagreement. Consequently, Ciancaglini was stripped of his privileges and a motion for his removal from office was initiated. Ciancaglini steadfastly protests the accusation.
"I'm the only person in the last three years that the dean has singled out on the listserv," Ciancaglini says. "In my own opinion, I had a fine rapport with the administration -- until I spoke out against Marina Angel."The way Ciancaglini explains it, during a meeting with tenured Professor Marina Angel, the faculty member accused him of spearheading a newly formed student organization called the Men's Law Caucus that, she said, denigrated women.
"That's an unbelievable accusation," he says of the social group, which has women members.
Ciancaglini says that after speaking with Angel, it appeared that she understood that that was not his organization's intent. A few days later, though, Angel issued what Ciancaglini described as an inflammatory memo alluding to their conversation, but not accurately representing what Ciancaglini says transpired.
"The whole thing became contentious when she took my words out of context," he explains. "But now I'm being bullied and I don't want to be shoved out the door. I didn't do anything wrong."
Ciancaglini is no stranger to controversy. Born and raised just blocks from where he now lives, Ciancaglini sheepishly acknowledges that he is a member of the infamous Ciancaglini clan -- a well-known South Philadelphia family with highly publicized ties to organized crime. Currently, both his uncle and a cousin are serving time for mob-related offenses.
"There's only one Ciancaglini family in Philly, and we're it," he says, with a slight grin. "But I'm trying to stay out of jail and make a legal living in a respected' field. You can chuckle if you like, and I admit it's not going too well right now, but all I can do is try."
In fact, Ciancaglini says that he aspires to work in the Philadelphia public defender's office. He says he'd like to represent those who may have been treated unfairly by the justice system. So far, though, his applications have been rejected. "I'm in the bottom 90 percent of the law school," he explains. "So, I'm looking for scraps." In the meantime, Ciancaglini says he'll keep his part-time gig working as a craps dealer at private parties.
Rob Barker has been Ciancaglini's friend for the three years they have attended Temple Law School. Barker says that, he too, believes Ciancaglini has gotten a raw deal.
"All this trouble started because of the election," says Barker, 34, who ran for treasurer on Ciancaglini's ticket. "He won because more people voted for him. He's a popular guy -- popular enough to win the election."
Barker says that other than the four student governors of the SBA, he believes Ciancaglini is well liked by the student body.
"I think he can be abrasive at times, but it's because he speaks his mind," Barker says. "The other governor members of the SBA have taken a dislike to him -- but it's about his personality. It's not based on his abilities or his qualifications for the office."
Barker says he still believes Ciancaglini is the best person for the job.
"The truth is he's a South Philly guy and he knows about just about anything in this city," Barker says. "The law school has a limited budget, but with all Billy's connections, he could make the [SBA] money go further [organizing happy hours and school social events]. That's why I thought he'd make a perfect president. I hope he stays. I think it would be very sad if he stepped down. It would seem as if he let these people get the better of him -- for personal reasons."
Lately, Ciancaglini says that it's still an uphill battle on campus. He says that while seeking remedies for his perceived wrongdoing, he's been given the royal runaround. Even suggestions made by the campus ombudsman have spawned no results. Adding insult to his injuries, a few weeks ago, law school Dean Robert Reinstein told him not to burden him further with any more complaints.
"If he had shown you all of the messages he's asked me to respond to, you'd understand why," Reinstein says. "He asked me to look into something and followed it up with a very long message -- somewhere around 10 pages. There are a thousand students in the law school and I really don't have time for that, so I directed him to another member of the administration. There's no way that I can devote that much time to one student. It has nothing to do with him personally."
But Ciancaglini sees things differently.
"I don't feel that what's going on in the law school has anything to do with my family," he says. "But I daresay that if I came from a long line of lawyers, I wouldn't be treated this way. I know this isn't how most lawyers start off. I had no legal knowledge, no connections and so many obstacles in my way. My time at Temple has been the worst three consecutive years I've ever had in my life. It's been a nightmare. And, frankly, if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't go to law school."