The phrase “Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier” could be in the San Francisco lexicon until 2015, after a superior court judge ruled Thursday that the multiple-term District 2 supervisor is not termed out next year as previously thought.
The decision contradicts earlier legal opinion from City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has long maintained Alioto-Pier is termed out in January, 2011.
In his ruling Thursday morning, Superior Court Judge Peter Busch — he of bicycle plan injunction fame — said that “he had gone back and forth” between both sides before making his decision, according to Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office. “He said he respected both arguments,” Dorsey said, “but concluded that where there is ambiguity, he must side with the office holder.”
That didn’t stop attorney Tom Pier — Alioto-Pier’s husband — from whooping it up. “It was a total and complete vindication,” said Pier, whose wife’s case was handled by ace attorney Jim Sutton’s law firm.
Supervisors are limited to two full four-year terms… but that’s where it gets hazy.
Supervisor Chris Daly has served 10 years on the Board, and current Assemblyman Tom Ammiano served 14.
Alioto-Pier has served on the Board of Supervisors since 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed her to fill the seat he had just vacated. She was elected in her own right that November — city law mandates that appointed supervisors must stand for election on the next calendared ballot — and was re-elected in 2006.
Ergo, from Alioto-Pier’s perspective, she has only served one full four-year term, and should be eligible to stand for reelection again this November. And Judge Busch agreed, in a ruling that sounded uncomfortable for the City Attorney’s Office.
And that’s no surprise to Alioto-Pier.
“I have yet to get any legal advice saying, ‘You’re wrong on this — you are going to lose,'” Alioto-Pier told the Appeal. “Everyone has said, ‘We don’t understand the City Attorney’s motivation on this one — we don’t know where he’s coming from.'”
Of course, one can speculate: that it is perhaps politically-motivated. Prior to Alioto-Pier’s reentry, the perhaps clear frontrunner in District 2 was Janet Reilly, whose husband is political-string-puller and hella-rich-dude Clint Reilly. Clint Reilly and City Attorney Dennis Herrera are close, and if Herrera is to run for mayor as is openly rumored, he’ll need help from folks like Reilly.
There’s also “voters’ intent,” something with which no judge will meddle lest he or she be labeled “activist.” Four times — in 1990, 1995, 1996 and in 2001 — voters have via proposition clarified politicians’ term limits, according to Dorsey. Now, with Busch’s ruling, “voters have left no scope for [the law] to be applied,” Dorsey said. Is this leaving your head spinning? If so, join The Appeal at our next LSAT practice test.
Herrera will decide “soon” whether or not his office will appeal the ruling, according to Dorsey. And that’s out of kindness, maybe: Alioto-Pier must either submit signatures or pay a $500 filing fee to appear on the ballot by the first week of August; if an appeal is filed and the hearing is scheduled for after that date, who knows what could happen. But in fairness, Alioto-Pier knew this was coming years ago and didn’t file her complaint until June, at essentially the last minute.
Photo of Alioto-Pier: The Christophers