Fresno Councilman in Court on Extortion Charge. His Attorney Seeks Dismissal. - GV Wire - Explore. Explain. Expose
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Fresno Councilman in Court on Extortion Charge. His Attorney Seeks Dismissal.

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Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza appears for an arraignment on attempted extortion charges. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)
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Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza appeared in court Tuesday morning but did not enter a plea on two criminal counts accusing him of attempting to extort the then city attorney.

“I continue to be very humbled by the outpouring of community support that we’ve received and all the folks who showed up today on our behalf,” Esparza said after the hearing. “I think most folks in the community see this case certainly for what it is, but we are very … pleased to be on the road towards resolving this case and having finally engaged and started the process.”

Judge Jon Kapetan granted Esparza’s request to continue the arraignment until Oct. 27. Esparza’s attorneys also filed a motion to dismiss the case because the evidence is based on attorney-client communication. That motion will be heard on Oct. 27 as well.

Tuesday’s hearing was brief. Kapetan asked Esparza if he was willing to give up his right to be arraigned today. Esparza answered in the affirmative.

The Charges

The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office accuses Esparza of threatening then-city attorney Douglas Sloan during a conversation in April. Esparza allegedly told Sloan that his job would be on the line if he provided legal guidance to certain City Council members.

The city charter says the city attorney works for all of the councilmembers.

Esparza has been charged with one felony count of attempted extortion and one misdemeanor count of violating the city charter.

“He never intended to extort anyone. And we believe that would come out of the trial,” Esparza’s attorney Mark Coleman said. “Anything they said during the course of that meeting was covered by the attorney-client privilege.”

Coleman said his strategy is for Esparza never to be arraigned. If the judge does not grant the motion to dismiss, Coleman will consider an appeal.

Esparza was joined in court by his partner Sandra Garcia, and fellow city councilmen Miguel Arias and Tyler Maxwell, as well as current and former staffers.

Taxpayers Funding Esparza Defense

City taxpayers are paying for Esparza’s legal defense. The agreement calls for lead attorney Coleman to be paid $350 an hour.

Coleman said the rate is less than his customary rate. He said the legal team has spent “quite a few” hours on the case, but he did not have a specific amount of time.

“I don’t like the fact that my fee agreement (was) leaked within hours of the time it was filed. That sort of just exemplifies the entire issue surrounding this case. I submit my agreement that we’ve negotiated and within hours it’s public knowledge, which is unusual in a criminal defense case,” Coleman said.

Two other attorneys — contracted at $250 an hour — are working with Coleman on the case — Margarita Martinez Baly and Scott Quinlan.

Esparza had no comment on taxpayers funding his defense.

Arias said there is precedence for publicly funding the legal defense of a Fresno official.

“The city has funded the defense of former Mayor Lee Brand, current Mayor Jerry Dyer, City Councilmember Bredefeld (and) myself,” Arias said.

The cases cited by Arias were civil suits.

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