Judge rules over who will pay tab in Esparza-Bredefeld defamation battle

Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld argued that the City of Fresno’s failure to collect attorney’s fees from Esparza would constitute a gift of public funds.

It appears that Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld’s attempt to force fellow Councilman Nelson Esparza to pay attorney’s fees in his abandoned defamation lawsuit is destined to fall short.

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan issued a tentative ruling Wednesday afternoon denying Bredefeld’s motion to collect attorney’s fees from Esparza. 


The backstory: After Bredefeld accused Esparza of extorting former Fresno City Attorney Doug Sloan last year, Esparza filed a defamation lawsuit against Bredefeld. Bredefeld responded with an Anti-SLAPP motion, and Esparza dropped the case three days before the motion was to be considered in a hearing. 

  • The city agreed to indemnify Esparza in both his civil case against Bredefeld along with the criminal charges filed – but ultimately dropped – by the Fresno County District Attorney’s office.
  • Seeking to make Esparza pay out of his own pocket instead of racking up costs for the taxpayers, Bredefeld filed a motion last August to require Esparza to pay him $25,101.50 in attorney’s fees. Per his indemnification agreement with the city, Bredefeld would give any attorney’s fees that he is awarded to the city. 
  • Earlier in January, Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz filed a disclaimer of interest, effectively informing the court that the City of Fresno would not seeking any attorney’s fees from Esparza. 
  • In a motion filed Monday, Bredefeld pressed for the City to require payment of Esparza’s attorney fee debt, arguing that failure to do so would constitute a gift of public funds, which is illegal under the California Constitution

The ruling: In her tentative ruling issued Wednesday, Kapetan noted that Bredefeld’s attorney, Walter Whelan, did not argue that he has not been paid by the city. 

  • “As the City of Fresno disclaimed interest in recovering the fees sought by this motion, the court finds the matter moot,” Kapetan wrote. 

What we’re watching: Both sides will appear in court Thursday for Kapetan to determine if her tentative ruling will stand. 

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