Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza attempted to have his extortion case dismissed in court Thursday on the grounds of attorney-client privilege.
Esparza claimed that the conversation between himself and former city attorney Doug Sloan, which resulted in the extortion charge, was protected by attorney-client privilege.
In that April conversation with Sloan, Esparza is alleged to have threatened Sloan’s job unless the attorney only worked for the council’s majority liberal bloc.
But Esparza made a decision following that conversation which has come back to bite him.
Esparza filed a defamation lawsuit against fellow councilman Garry Bredefeld, who publicly revealed Sloan’s allegations in May.
Although Esparza dropped the lawsuit in June, his decision a month earlier to even file it became the center of attention in court Thursday.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Brian Alvarez ruled against Esparza’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that any attorney-client privilege that may have existed in the April conversation was waived through the filing of the defamation lawsuit, which is inherently open to public scrutiny and presented Esparza’s take of the details of the infamous meeting.
With the dismissal struck down, Esparza will return to court Tuesday for the preliminary hearing – an almost “mini-trial” of sorts in which the prosecution will present evidence to establish probable cause.
“At this point we remain unconcerned and undeterred about the status of the case. We’ve said from the beginning that we look forward to the process and the proceedings, and moving forward we’ll look forward to exonerating the case on the basis of the facts. We continue to look forward to proving that,” Esparza said in a statement to the media outside the courthouse.
“Again, want to thank all the different folks in the community who have come out and shown their support, residents across Fresno. As I’ve said in the past, I think most of the community sees the case certainly for what it is, and it looks like going forward we’ll have the opportunity to watch that unfold.”
While the attorney-client privilege question ultimately centered around the withdrawn defamation lawsuit in Alvarez’s eyes, Sloan made an appearance in court as a witness for the prosecution who was called in regarding the motion to dismiss.
Prosecutor Victor Lai asked Sloan to recount the conversation that took place in Esparza’s office on April 22.
“It began with him [Esparza] saying, ‘I’m just going to cut to the chase. I’m standing between you and you losing your job. From now on you’re to work only for the council majority.’ And I responded with, ‘So what do I do if the others ask you to do something?’ And he said, ‘Come talk to me.’ And then I said, ‘Where’s [Councilman] Luis [Chavez] on this?’ And then he said, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ That was the whole conversation,” Sloan said.
Esparza entered a not guilty plea last month at his arraignment.