Fresno

Esparza heads to court on extortion charge, launches motion to dismiss

Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza, who has been charged with extortion by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, had his arraignment moved to Oct. 27 on Tuesday as he attempts to get the case dismissed. 

Esparza appeared in court Tuesday morning in front of Judge Jon Kapetan for his arraignment. 

Defense attorney Mark Coleman, flanked by fellow defense attorneys Margarita Martinez-Baly and Scott Quinlan, requested that the arraignment be moved to the end of October because of a motion they filed. 

Kapetan and the district attorney’s office agreed, allowing Esparza to not enter a plea Tuesday. 

After the postponement, Coleman told the media outside the courtroom that the team is submitting a motion to dismiss. 

“We have filed a motion that it’s our claim, and it’s been our claim, that anything that transpired during the meeting was covered by the attorney-client privilege, and the motion is a motion to dismiss based upon the fact that the communications were attorney-client communications,” Coleman said. 

The district attorney’s office charged Esparza with one count of attempted extortion and one count of attempting to violate a section in the Fresno City Charter which details the position of the city attorney. 

The allegations stem from a meeting Esparza held on April 22 with former city attorney Doug Sloan, which were revealed to the public in May by Councilman Garry Bredefeld. 

Sloan alleged that Esparza told him to solely work for the council majority – Esparza, Miguel Arias, Tyler Maxwell and Esmeralda Soria – and was no longer to do any work for any of the other councilmembers. 

If the other councilmembers requested any work, Sloan was to refuse and report their requests back to Esparza. 

Esparza also allegedly told Sloan that he was the only thing stopping Sloan from being fired by the council. 

Coleman said he could not comment on the merits of the case due to attorney-client privilege. 

“All we can say is that Mr. Esparza strongly denies the allegations and never intended to extort anyone, and we believe that would come out at the trial,” Coleman said. 

Arias and Maxwell, as well as various council staffers, joined Esparza in court to support him.

“I continue to be very humbled by the outpouring of community support that we’ve received and all the folks who showed up today on our behalf,” Esparza said. “I think most folks in the community see this case certainly for what it is, but we are pleased to be on the road to resolving this case and having finally engaged and start the process.” 

If convicted, Esparza faces potential fines, jail time or up to three years in prison. Any conviction would result in Esparza’s ouster from office, per City Charter.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.