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A bitter seven-year fee fight between San Francisco attorneys Waukeen McCoy and Angela Alioto made it to the appellate level Wednesday, where three justices asked few questions and gave no indication how they would rule. At stake, McCoy claims, is about $2 million in fees allegedly earned while working with Alioto for a year on a racial discrimination case against Interstate Brands Corp., the maker of Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies. He also disputes about $31,000 in costs awarded Alioto by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero. On Wednesday, arguments in San Francisco’s First District Court of Appeal seemed to focus on whether McCoy was associated with Alioto at the time � which wouldn’t require their admittedly oral fee-sharing agreement to be in writing � and whether he is due fees quantum meruit. In other words, for the services he rendered in a quasi-contractual relationship. With McCoy sitting at his side, attorney Dow Patten, an of counsel in McCoy’s office, argued a division of fees “clearly was contemplated” and that Alioto “held Mr. McCoy out as an associate.” Patten stated that the two attorneys shared the same address, voice mail, letterhead and business cards, and that there was no indication McCoy’s office was separate. Steven Robinson, an attorney in Alioto’s office, disputed that when he got to the lectern, arguing McCoy had his own furniture, staff and caseload. The two were involved in “a joint venture rather than a partnership,” Robinson said, and McCoy’s “compensation was entirely contingent on the results of the lawsuit.” He also argued that McCoy left the litigation “at a very early stage in the case” and did “minimal work,” allegedly appearing at a single deposition. Alioto didn’t appear in person Wednesday because she was in the midst of a nine-plaintiff trial, Robinson said. In court papers, McCoy claims he was kicked out of Alioto’s employ in 1999 when he objected to an attempt to reduce his anticipated fees from 25 percent to 10 percent. Three of Alioto’s plaintiffs in the race discrimination case left with McCoy. In August 2000, San Francisco jurors awarded Alioto’s clients $132 million, which a judge reduced to $27 million. An undisclosed settlement � which McCoy in court papers said was $25 million � was eventually reached. McCoy later filed two suits accusing Alioto of breach of contract and malicious prosecution, while Alioto sued him for allegedly stealing her clients. All three suits failed, but Alioto was awarded costs. During Wednesday’s oral arguments, Justices William McGuiness, Joanne Parrilli and Peter Siggins seemed most interested in the quantum meruit issue, with the first two seeming to question whether it had been timely raised in the trial court. Judge Dondero ruled McCoy had taken quantum meruit “off the table” during the litigation. But in his appellate court papers, McCoy argued he had told the judge he didn’t amend his complaint to add quantum meruit as a cause of action because it’s an equitable remedy always available for the court. Although both sides were civil Wednesday, their court documents were full of snipes. Robinson said Wonder Bread clients testified that McCoy “did little if anything for them,” while McCoy accused Alioto of having a pattern and practice of “stealing labor” from other attorneys. “She allows them to associate into cases with her,” he wrote, “and after they have put considerable time into the cases, she fires them or refuses to pay them (or both).” The case is McCoy v. Alioto, A102945.

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