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$4.5 Million Lawsuit Against Fresno Councilmember Will Continue, Judge Rules



A judge ruled Esmeralda Soria (right) can defend herself in a defamation lawsuit brought on by Fresno City Council colleague Mike Karbassi. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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A Fresno city councilmember will be allowed to defend herself from a defamation lawsuit brought by one of her elected colleagues, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Photo of GV Wire's David Taub

David Taub

Politics 101

Councilman Mike Karbassi sought a default judgment against Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria — hoping for an automatic victory because Soria did not respond to his lawsuit in time. While attorneys representing the parties bickered in court, they ultimately agreed to let the lawsuit proceed. Karbassi is seeking $4.5 million in damages.

Karbassi claims Soria defamed him in a campaign mailer sent while the two were running against each other for state Assembly during the June primary. Soria advanced to the general election in November; Karbassi finished fourth in a four-person field.

In court, Karbassi’s attorney Brian Whelan called Soria’s motion to set aside a default judgement as “political theater.” Soria’s attorney wrote to Whelan that serving Soria with the lawsuit was “an attempt to harass, embarrass and to try to create a spectacle for you and your client.”

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Gaab had the parties agree to allow the case to proceed. Soria’s legal camp says they intend to file an anti-SLAPP motion. Such motions argue that a lawsuit like Karbassi’s is invalid because it would impinge on protected speech. If granted, it would in essence end the suit.

After the hearing, Whelan and Soria attorney Jeffrey Einsohn shook hands with a wish to engage in civility. Thirty seconds later, the two were bickering over issues during the elevator ride down.

Both Karbassi and Soria’s campaign say they are paying lawsuit costs with campaign funds. Recent campaign financial reports show Soria paid her attorney $5,000; Karbassi paid Whelan’s law firm $450. Both figures are through June 30.

Also in Politics 101 …

  • Rep. Conway wants local water hearing.
  • Millions for local job training program.
  • Governor appoints Fresnan to state board.

Conway Wants Local Hearing on Water

Rep. Connie Conway, R-Tulare, is asking for a hearing to take place in the Central Valley regarding local water crisis.

Conway serves on the Natural Resources Committee. She sent a letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, asking him to visit the Valley.

“As you are likely aware, the Central Valley of California, my home, has been plagued by drought that has caused persistent, severe water shortages for our families and farmers,” Conway wrote Grijalva.

Grijalva has visited the Central Valley before. He took a water tour with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and then-Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, in 2019.

Costa Touts $23 Million Job Creation Grant

Local workforce training programs received a $23 million boost in federal grants.

Through the Good Jobs Challenge — funded by the American Rescue Plan Act —  Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, which will “create good-paying jobs in financial services, manufacturing, transportation, and construction industries” according to a news release from Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Costa says the workforce training will include manufacturing, construction, financial services and more.

Fresno EDC was one of 32 recipients of the program.

Fresnan Appointed to State Board

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Eleanor Uribe to the state Board of Behavioral Sciences. The governor’s office says she’s been Faculty Field Liaison at Fresno State since 2012. She has a background in social work.

The board oversees the licensing and enforcement of standards for mental health professionals.

The state Senate needs to confirm her appointment. Uribe — registered as no party preference — will be compensated $100 per diem.

David Taub has spent most of his career in journalism behind the scenes working as a TV assignment editor and radio producer. For more than a decade, he has worked in the Fresno market with such stops at KSEE-24, KMJ and Power Talk 96.7. Taub also worked the production and support side of some of TV sports biggest events including the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and NASCAR to name a few. Taub graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email