If her bid to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps as San Francisco mayor is successful, Michela Alioto-Pier will need to raise a boatload of money — some of which she can use to pay back the lawyers who worked on her failed bid to stay on the Board of Supervisors for a third term.
The former two-term Marina District supe owes the attorneys from political moderate mainstay Sutton Law Firm who worked on her court case — in which Alioto-Pier unsuccessfully argued that she’d served one term and change, not two terms, as City Attorney Dennis Herrera opined — some $86,000, according to records of the “Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier Legal Defense Fund” on file at the city’s Ethics Commission.
Herrera issued a decision in 2008 that Alioto-Pier’s seven years on the board constituted two full terms. The supervisor filed suit against the city in 2010, and in late July 2010, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that she must appear on the ballot. Herrera appealed the decision to the state court of appeals, who overturned the lower court on August 24, 2010 and ordered her name removed from the ballot.
Two days later, on August 26, Alioto-Pier’s attorneys filed paperwork forming the The Legal Defense Fund — oddly-named considering Alioto-Pier was the one bringing suit, and that all the litigating was complete.
Political watchers may be asking: why is a legal bill billed to a campaign committee, especially a campaign committee which records zero contributions and only unpaid legal bills? There’s nothing in election law requiring her to do so: Alioto-Pier *could* have paid her legal expenses out of pocket, according to Ethics Commission executive director John St. Croix. That she formed a committee means a caps contributions to $500 per-person limits; as the beneficiary of the committee, she may loan her committee the money, but why do that when she could just pay her lawyers?
Alioto-Pier did not return a message left on her cell phone Wednesday. Neither Sutton Law Firm principal partner Jim Sutton nor staff attorney Kevin Heneghan, who handled much of Alioto-Pier’s eligibility litigation, returned messages left at the firm’s offices Wednesday.
This leaves nothing but the speculation, of which there’s plenty. It’s well-known Alioto-Pier is not poor — she and her husband, attorney Tom Pier, own homes in Cow Hollow and St. Helena, where she also owns a vineyard and wine business, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock, according to financial disclosures. She could merely be “cheap,” according to a local political consultant who asked to stay nameless (due to the shit-talking).
“The Aliotos have money, but they’re cheap,” the consultant said. “[Former Board of Supervisors President] Angela [Alioto] has stiffed attorneys before… though $86,000 is $86,000. Even if you have millions, you’ll feel that.”
It’s possible that the debt may never be repaid — at least “officially.” It often happens that consultants or attorneys will over-bill a candidate for services one election cycle, only to provide services on the cheap on the next, or vice versa, depending when spending and contribution limits kick in.
Exactly how much Alioto-Pier’s mayoral committee has spent or raised — and from whom, and on what — is unknown: her campaign committee has not made those filings, called Form 460s. Her committee has both spent and raised more than $50,000, respectively, according to other filings.