Terms of Endearment: Alioto-Pier Says She May File Suit if City Doesn't Reverse Stance That She's Termed Out in 2010

Is that Alioto-Pier's 'happy' smile or her 'I'm gonna sue you' smile?
Earlier this month, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier sat down for a cup of coffee with City Attorney Dennis Herrera. She was hoping to get him to reconsider a ruling from his office stating Alioto-Pier will be termed out of office next year - and, if he declines to do so, their next meeting may not be over hot coffee but hot lawsuits. "I am not ruling out a lawsuit - absolutely not," she said.

To put the City Attorney's February 2008 ruling in an extreme nutshell, it found Alioto-Pier was already serving in her second "full term," quoting a line from the city charter stating that any supervisors "appointed ... to complete in excess of two years of a four-year term" will be deemed to have served a full term.

Lawyers are involved here, so you know it's going to get a little tricky. Alioto-Pier's contention is that this scenario doesn't match her situation. After being appointed by Gavin Newsom to fill his vacant supes' seat in 2004, Alioto-Pier won a special election 10 months later for a two-year term prior to winning re-election to a four-year term in 2006. Therefore, she never served two years in an appointed position - and for term limitation purposes, two-year terms and four-year terms aren't the same. You can read the Alioto-Pier ruling here:AliotoPier Opinion.pdf

Alioto-Pier contrasts her ruling with Herrera's generous finding in 2004 that former Supervisor Tom Ammiano -- a progressive who's ideologically simpatico with Herrera -- was eligible to run for a fourth term. The two-year term he served between 1998 and 2000 meant he did not serve "two successive four-year terms." Ammiano ended up serving 14 years in office. "I asked [Herrera] 'Is this political?'" recalls Alioto-Pier, one of the board's moderate members. "He said 'Of course not.'"

You can read the Ammiano ruling here: Ammiano Opinion.pdf

Herrera declined to comment for this article, stating he'd let the ruling "speak for itself" -- meaning he couldn't answer Alioto-Pier's charge of duplicity. She states that, on the very same day former deputy city attorney Ann O'Leary told her lawyers at Jim Sutton's firm the city's position was ironclad, O'Leary appeared at the Rules Committee and said that there was "confusion" with the wording of the current law and slight tweaks were needed in the language to fortify the city's position. Those tweaks were inserted into Measure F - which lost resoundingly in November.

The ball may next land in elections chief John Arntz's court. Alioto-Pier intends to file to run in 2010, and the city's director of elections - who did not return SF Weekly's calls - could well heed the City Attorney's ruling. From there the case could go to superior or even federal court. "I'm going to fight this," Alioto-Pier promised.

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