This story has been updated.
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza announced Monday that he is dropping his defamation suit against fellow Councilman Garry Bredefeld, who has accused Esparza of attempting to extort the city attorney.
Esparza said he was withdrawing from the lawsuit to save the city the cost of defending Bredefeld and the cost of damages that Esparza said he would receive with a successful lawsuit.
“I love our city and will not sue the City of Fresno over my colleague’s defamatory remarks,” Esparza said in a news release. “His antics have already cost enough taxpayer dollars. For this reason, I am making the responsible decision to withdraw my suit so that we as a body can heal and move forward.”
Bredefeld did not have an immediate response but scheduled a 2 p.m. news conference at City Hall. At the news conference, he said Esparza’s stated goal to drop the defamation suit to save taxpayers’ dollars was “a joke and pathetic.”
Bredefeld: Esparza Wastes Public Money
If Esparza was interested in protecting taxpayers’ dollars, Bredefeld said, he wouldn’t have voted to approve a $55,000 pay raise for himself and other councilmembers; he wouldn’t have filed the defamation lawsuit; he wouldn’t have attempted to extort then-City Attorney Doug Sloan, requiring the city to embark on an expensive search for a new city attorney when Sloan quit to take a new job; and he wouldn’t have put more than $100,000 in charges on his city credit card for items that included a new council president logo and catered reception for the council president ($4,000 and $2,300), $1,700 for Grizzlies suite food catering, and $1,728 for a Tyler Maxwell mailer — in itself a possible violation of campaign finance rules.
Bredefeld said he plans to file a motion in court asking a judge to require Esparza to personally repay the legal costs incurred by the city for his defamation lawsuit. Bredefeld estimated those costs could total as much as $20,000.
As for whether Esparza could face criminal charges, Bredefeld said he and Councilman Mike Karbassi have talked to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, and he has spoken with the FBI.
“Let me just say that I believe there’s an active investigation going on, but I can’t comment any more than that,” he said.
During a May 13 news conference, Bredefeld accused Esparza of attempting to extort Sloan in a meeting on April 22. During the meeting, Esparza allegedly told Sloan that he was to work for the council majority and that Esparza was “standing between you and you losing your job.”
Sloan, who now works for the city of Santa Monica, confirmed the conversation in an email to local news media later that night.
In a subsequent court filing in his defamation suit, Esparza provided an alternate version of the meeting he had with Sloan, which followed a council discussion over whether the City Attorney’s office was being “weaponized” by Bredefeld for partisan purposes. He said in the court filing that he had never suggested that Sloan only work for the council majority or to the exclusion of certain councilmembers.
Bredefeld later filed an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a lawsuit by claiming free speech protection. A hearing on that motion had been scheduled for Wednesday.