It wasn't the kind of case you'd see on Court TV. Attorney Anthony Gianfrancesco '79 was sitting in his part-time office on the third floor of Faunce House when the client walked in, sat down, and asked Gianfrancesco to help him file a restraining order against his former girlfriend. What was this? A dating-violence case? An assault? A lawsuit perhaps? No, the student explained, the problem involved a belt. A few days after breaking up with the woman - on Valentine's Day, no less - he'd called her to ask for a belt he'd left in her apartment. After he'd tried several times to get his belt back, her threatening phone calls began.
Gianfrancesco listened patiently, mulling over the facts with a kind of Perry Mason sagacity. Then he spoke. "You don't need a restrain-ing order," he said. "Forget about the belt. Chalk it up as the cost of the relationship."
Attorney Gianfrancesco '79
So goes the work of Brown's unofficial lawyer-in-residence, who, in exchange for a $5,000-a-year retainer from the Undergraduate Council of Students and the Graduate Student Council, holds court in Faunce House two nights a week. Most of the 550 students who have walked through the door since Gianfrancesco began working for the University in 1993 are trying to retrieve security deposits or resolve other landlord disputes. Managing the fine print on leases has made Gianfrancesco an expert on Rhode Island landlord-tenant law. So many of his cases are landlord-related that he carries a copy of the relevant statutes with him whenever he walks up College Hill.
Every so often, though, students come to Gianfrancesco with more serious cases: divorces, faulty-product disputes, even felonies. Many of these, such as the felony cases, Gianfrancesco refers out to other attorneys. According to his contract, he is not allowed to handle cases involving the University; he cannot, for example, represent a student filing charges against Brown, against a fellow student, or against a University employee. Gianfrancesco's day job is as a partner in a five-attorney firm in downtown Providence, but his College Hill roots run deep: his uncle is Louis Gianfrancesco, owner of Loui's, the culinary landmark on Brook Street.
A student's first consultation with Gianfrancesco is free. After that, his services cost fifty dollars an hour - about half the going rate for legal services downtown. Though his original motivation for taking the job was to land a major personal-injury case (for which he can charge students only a 25 percent contingency fee instead of the customary 33 percent), none has yet materialized.
Meanwhile, Gianfrancesco has gotten a look at a novel slice of student life, and he reports that Brown students make superior clients. "They're intelligent and they listen," he says. "My other clients are more distrustful. If they don't like my advice - for whatever reason - they won't follow it. It's refreshing."