In a new court filing, Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza tells his side of a conflict that led him to file a defamation lawsuit against a colleague.
The matter revolved around a private meeting Esparza held in April with former City Attorney Douglas Sloan.
Councilman Garry Bredefeld later accused Esparza of attempting to “extort” Sloan in the meeting and said Sloan’s job was threatened. Esparza then sued Bredefeld for defamation.
Sloan, in a rare move, publicly shared details his conversation with Esparza, seemingly in support of Bredefeld’s account. Since then, Sloan has left Fresno for a similar position with the city of Santa Monica.
On April 21, the City Council held a discussion over a resolution to prevent members from “weaponizing” the city attorney to investigate other councilmembers. The council also discussed Sloan’s job performance — a regular occurrence — during the day’s closed session.
The next day, Sloan “made an unscheduled stop” in Esparza’s office, the court filing says, to discuss the prior day’s meeting.
“Esparza informed Mr. Sloan that, in his assessment, several Councilmembers were displeased with the fact that his City Attorney’s office had been weaponized for partisan purposes by Councilmember Garry Bredefeld. Plaintiff further informed Mr. Sloan that he was not presently inclined to vote for termination but that, as a voting member of the Council he wanted to have reassurances that the previous night’s resolution would be complied with and abided by. At no time did plaintiff Esparza direct, order, imply or suggest to Mr. Sloan that he should work only for ‘the majority’ of the Council or only for any certain Councilmembers to the exclusion of any others,” the filing states.
Bredefeld filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which is a legal move to dismiss a lawsuit by claiming free speech protection. Esparza countered that because Bredefeld spoke at a private news conference, his statements were not made in a protected public forum.
Did Sloan Violate Attorney-Client Privilege?
Some of Esparza’s arguments were technical — an anti-SLAPP motion can’t be filed until a lawsuit is served, which it has not been. Esparza’s attorneys also accused Sloan of breaking attorney-client privilege by speaking publicly about their April conversation.
Esparza is also objecting to including some of Bredefeld’s evidence, including Sloan’s statements about what happened during an April city council closed session meeting.
Bredefeld’s attorney filed a response, arguing that what happened in closed session and Sloan’s accounts are fair game; and the news conference was conducted as a normal part of the councilman’s duties.
The anti-SLAPP motion is scheduled June 29 in the courtroom of Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan.