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City Hires Prominent Attorney to Defend Council President at Taxpayers Expense

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Fresno City Councilmember Nelson Esparza is facing extortion charges over allegations he threatened another City Hall official's job. (GV Wire Composite)
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The city of Fresno hired a prominent criminal defense attorney to defend the City Council president in a criminal case, records show.

Attorney Mark Coleman (markwcolemanlaw.com)

Nelson Esparza faces two criminal counts based on an alleged conversation in April with then-City Attorney Douglas Sloan. The Fresno District Attorney’s Office charged Esparza with one felony count of attempted extortion and a misdemeanor count of violating the city charter. If Esparza is convicted, he faces a maximum of three years in prison.

In a contract finalized Wednesday, Mark Coleman — recognized as a top trial lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers — will receive $350 an hour plus expenses. An associate attorney will be paid $250 an hour.

Expenses include travel costs outside of Fresno and meals. Overhead costs — such as office supplies and research software — are not covered.

Esparza is scheduled for arraignment on Tuesday, Sept. 20, in front of Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jon Kapetan.

Neither Esparza nor Coleman immediately responded to a request for comment.

Coleman most recently represented former congressman TJ Cox at his arraignment for dozens of federal fraud and campaign fraud charges last month. It is unclear if Coleman will continue to represent Cox.

Record of Vote to Hire Attorney Still Secret

State law allows cities to hire private attorneys for public employees, including elected leaders, although it is not mandatory.

The City Council took a vote in closed session in June to allow for the hiring of a criminal attorney, city documents uncovered by GV Wire revealed.

Contrary to advice from outside counsel, the city council has not publicly disclosed that vote. State open meeting laws mandate that votes in closed session must be announced publicly.

A council meeting scheduled for Thursday was cancelled last week because of a lack of quorum.

Councilman Garry Bredefeld disagrees with the decision to pay for Esparza’s attorney with city funds.

“I oppose using any taxpayer money to defend an elected official accused of a crime and will continue to do so,” Bredefeld said.

Esparza sued Bredefeld in civil court earlier this year for defamation. Bredefeld notified the media about the confrontation Esparza allegedly had with Sloan.

Bredefeld accused Esparza of attempting to extort Sloan — threatening the city official’s job security if he “worked” for the non-council majority.

Esparza has denied those charges. He was criminally charged July 18.

The civil case was eventually dropped, but discussed by the Fresno City Council in closed session. Esparza recused himself in those meetings.

Read the Contract

 

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email