November 20-26, 2003
Photo By: Michael T. Regan
Temple's "bad boy" law student passes the bar.
These days, Billy Ciancaglini can’t wipe the grin off his face. Despite a salvo of controversies lobbed at him during his three years at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, the 32-year-old South Philly native recently aced his bar exam on the first try. Now, Temple’s "bad boy" is an honest-to-goodness lawyer.
Well-known for its La Cosa Nostra ties, the Ciancaglini name has long been a familiar one in the crime pages of Philadelphia newspapers. With a number of his cousins and uncles murdered, maimed or currently clocking time in the big house, this Ciancaglini acknowledges he’s doing things a bit differently than his kin.
"I do have a distant cousin that’s a lawyer, but for all intents and purposes, I’m the first," Ciancaglini says proudly. "This was such new ground for my family. It was kinda unprecedented. I will say my grandmother is very, very happy."
But getting through law school was no easy task. As he barreled through his final semester, sparks were flying. Although he was duly elected as president of the school’s Student Bar Association, Ciancaglini was targeted for misusing an internal listserv by foes on the organization’s governing board, and only narrowly escaped impeachment. At the same time, Ciancaglini had garnered the ire of an influential professor when a social organization Ciancaglini headed was accused of being sexist and homophobic. Adding insult to injury, Ciancaglini pissed off the law-school dean by inundating the administration with a barrage of e-mails he drafted to defend himself from an onslaught of unpleasant accusations.
"I feel strong now," he says, "but I was getting fed up at Temple and I was thinking of giving it up. Once the Temple thing was over, though, I realized the whole world wasn’t like that -- just that one horrible building."
Now, Ciancaglini has donned a suit, a tie and a pair of tasseled loafers. As a part-time gig, he freelances for criminal defense attorney Joe Santaguida. Santaguida has his own high-profile reputation due to mob clientele, like Joey Merlino and Nicky Scarfo.
"I didn’t know Billy or anyone in his family," Santaguida says. "I gave him a job because a lawyer in the defender’s office gave him a strong recommendation. So far, he seems very energetic and bright. I get good feedback about him and I’m already very pleased with what he’s done in the past couple of months. As long as he’s happy with me, I’m happy with him."
Ciancaglini now spends his time doing research, writing briefs and making occasional courtroom appearances.
"When you pass the bar, you don’t get any money, but you do get a license to work," he says. "I see myself as a lawyer for all occasions. But I think criminal law will be the best for me. When you get me in the courtroom you get your money’s worth. Being who I am, you know, the whole South Philly thing, I can relate to the juries. I’m one of them. While another lawyer will say, "When did you exit the automobile?’ I just say, "When did you get out of the car?’ Hey, who am I trying to impress?"
Ciancaglini says he hopes to hang his own shingle within six months. But, in the meantime, other members of his chosen profession are welcoming him on board.
"I never met him and I’ve never heard of him -- but that’s probably a good thing," says F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, the defense attorney who represented Ciancaglini’s cousin, John, on racketeering charges three years ago. "I think his thoughts about what he wants to do are very good thoughts. I think it was a good idea for him to become a lawyer and I wish him the best."
Ciancaglini didn’t always plan on becoming a lawyer. An undergraduate at La Salle University, he majored in English while entertaining short-lived notions of becoming a journalist.
"People told me the field was oversaturated. You know how that goes," he says. "So, now, I’m a lawyer. I’m doing a little bit of everything and figuring it out. But, I’m trained, I’m able, I’m strong, I feel great -- and I’ve even got my business cards made up."
Ciancaglini has also begun exploring his political interests. A month ago, he became interim Democratic committeeman for the neighborhood at 17th and Ritner streets.
"It’s only about 500 people or so," he says. "But, I’ll be their liaison to solving problems having to do with the city. I’ll be educating them on elections, and stuff like that. It’s the bottom rung, and I’m looking to move up. Actually, my goal is to be mayor one day. Then this city will really see some changes. But, don’t worry, that’s 20 years from now."