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San Francisco Legal Dynasty Airs Money Squabbles in Court

October 2, 1991

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A paralyzed woman’s quest to recover a $1.6 million debt has embroiled a San Francisco legal dynasty in a court battle involving her own father and her grandfather, former Mayor Joseph L. Alioto.

The former mayor claims the debt is his son’s problem and the son says it’s his father’s obligation. And against the backdrop of the family squabble, the former mayor’s daughter, City Supervisor Angela Alioto, is running for mayor.

″It is undoubtedly a cause celebre,″ said Joseph M. Alioto, the former mayor’s son and father of plaintiff Michela Alioto, ″but it’s not really as intense as it might be reported.″

Michela Alioto, 23, is seeking repayment of a 1987 loan made with money she got from a settlement for a ski accident that left her unable to walk. She made the loan when a disgruntled client moved to confiscate her father’s home.

Michela Alioto and her father say the loan was to the family law firm, Alioto and Alioto, a partnership that continues in spite of the feud. They say the senior Alioto promised to repay it with legal fees from the Los Angeles Raiders, which the Aliotos represented in their battles with Oakland after owner Al Davis moved the franchise south.

The former mayor maintains the loan was strictly to save Joseph M. Alioto’s home and therefore is his responsibility.

In court documents, Michela Alioto contends her grandfather broke a promise.

″That money was my nest egg to pay for, if necessary, the expense of caring for myself, which had increased many-fold since my accident,″ she said.

Michela Alioto declined to be interviewed. ″The results of the case will speak for themselves,″ said her attorney, R. Michael Lieberman.

Meanwhile, Angela Alioto is facing questions about her own finances.

The questions include her debt - $727,000 on an annual income of $91,000 - and published reports quoting two former co-workers who say she performed minimal work on cases for which she was paid a $254,000 advance from her father’s law firm.

That money went for a failed 1986 bid for the Board of Supervisors, a position she finally won in 1988. Angela Alioto says that because it was an advance the money did not violate a city law prohibiting political donations of more than $500. In denying any wrongdoing, she says she wouldn’t be facing such intense financial security if she were a man.

Adding complexity, Michela Alioto’s lawsuit, filed last year in San Diego Superior Court, is not against her grandfather, but against the Los Angeles Raiders and Bank of America.

The suit argues that a Raiders legal fee of $1.9 million should have gone to Michela, not the law firm. The money has been impounded by the court.

Joseph M. Alioto says his father refused to repay the loan after facing a $3.3 million tax bill from the Internal Revenue Service. Because of the tax implications, the case was recently moved to San Diego, where it is pending.

The elder Alioto refused to comment to The Associated Press. But he told the San Francisco Examiner he never promised to pay his granddaughter back out of the Raiders’ fees.

In a court document, the former mayor said he has ″only admiration and affection for Michela,″ blaming his son’s mistakes for the unpaid debt.

Joseph M. Alioto says he can take his father’s criticisms, but they hurt his children.

″I don’t know ... why he filed that document. I don’t think he would if he had a chance to do it again,″ he said.

Joseph M. Alioto said he knew his daughter, a student at UCLA, was going to file the lawsuit and he supported her action.

″My daughter is going to be repaid. If necessary, I’ll pay everything, but I think in light of what the situation was and according to her own wishes she wanted to make sure that everybody paid their part,″ he said.

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