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Two well-known, flamboyant attorneys were fairly subdued Wednesday in a San Francisco courtroom during the first day of a trial pitting them against each other. A breach of contract suit brought by Waukeen McCoy, and a countersuit by Angela Alioto claiming he stole her clients, enlarges on a dispute that arose during a race discrimination case the two worked on together from 1999 to 2001. McCoy v. Alioto, 304904, and Alioto v. McCoy, 305221, are being heard by Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero. At the heart of the case is a disagreement over the percentage of attorneys fees McCoy received in a suit against Interstate Brands Corp., the maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies. IBC was accused of discriminating against black workers in its San Francisco plant. A San Francisco jury awarded $132 million to 19 workers; Superior Court Judge Stuart Pollak reduced the award to $27 million. After an appeal was filed, the case was settled in September 2001 for an undisclosed amount, believed to be about $20 million. McCoy, who originally worked on the case with Alioto, split off in 1999 from her case and represented three of the 19 plaintiffs. He claims Alioto reneged on their fee agreement. “We had a partnership agreement that she breached by not paying me what we agreed to,” McCoy said after Wednesday’s court hearing. Alioto, on the other hand, claims that McCoy lured those clients away from her law firm illegally. “Mr. McCoy interfered with the [IBC] case and took three clients,” said Jerry Windley, Alioto’s spokesman. “He tampered and interfered with the case.” Alioto’s suit also alleges that Rachell Smith, a former receptionist, redirected the three clients to McCoy. Smith is also a defendant in Alioto’s countersuit. The contentious nature of the trial was apparent from the start, as Judge Dondero first addressed some problems in the discovery process. Annoyed, he scolded both attorneys, reminding them of their professional responsibility. Standing in the wood-paneled courtroom Wednesday, the parties were a study in contrast: Angela Alioto, a member of a politically connected family, is a former supervisor and twice-unsuccessful candidate for mayor. Her attorney is her brother John, and the two are the children of former mayor Joseph Alioto. A solo practitioner, McCoy was appointed by Mayor Willie Brown to the Ethics Commission four months ago. His attorney, solo Michael Davis, is a Stanford Law School graduate with 10 years’ experience who currently serves as general counsel for a software company and has his own litigation practice. A couple of key motions were resolved quickly. John Alioto argued that the Wonder Bread plaintiffs’ testimony was important in determining what work, if any, McCoy did on behalf of them. Dondero said they would be able to testify on a limited basis. John Alioto said McCoy should not be able to present the alleged breach of contract as a racially motivated act. McCoy’s attorney agreed, and the motion was dismissed. But John Alioto made it clear he wants to try to characterize McCoy as “someone extremely litigious who frequently plays the race card,” he said in court Wednesday. Both attorneys said later that Angela Alioto’s possible mayoral bid could play a role in the trial. Alioto, who said she is considering a run for mayor, agreed that the timing of McCoy’s suit may have political undertones. “McCoy is a Willie Brown appointee and that tells me everything as to why I’m sitting here today,” she said. McCoy dismissed the idea that his lawsuit could potentially damage Alioto’s mayoral bid. “This case was filed in 1999,” he said. “She’s lost [mayoral elections] on two occasions before. The public should know she has failed to pay attorneys.” Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday. Neither side would estimate how long the trial will take.

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