Fresno City Councilman Nelson Esparza pleaded not guilty Thursday to two criminal charges related to an ill-fated conversation with the city attorney.
Esparza is charged with one felony count of attempted extortion and one misdemeanor count of violating the city charter. Both are related to a conversation with then-city attorney Douglas Sloan last April. Esparza allegedly told Sloan to only work for the council majority (Esparza and three other councilmembers) and not other councilmembers.
A motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the case was not decided during the morning Fresno Superior Court hearing. The case returns to court Nov. 2 for a pre-preliminary hearing, which Esparza was not ordered to attend. His attorney Mark Coleman described it as a chance for the attorneys and judge to “address administrative issues.”
Esparza must attend a preliminary hearing on Nov. 10, where the motion may be decided.
“Obviously, we are disappointed that we’re experiencing this two week delay here. I was really looking forward to bringing this to a resolution today,” Esparza said to the media outside the courtroom after the hearing.
“I will look forward to bringing it to a speedy resolution then. We did answer a not guilty plea. Absolutely not guilty. We look forward to the opportunity to continue to demonstrate that,” Esparza said.
District Attorney investigator Marshall Varela was also ordered to appear on Nov. 10.
Esparza’s Courthouse Comments
Several Supporters on Hand
Two City Council colleagues, several staff members and others packed Department 33 in the main criminal courthouse, in support of Esparza.
Councilmen Tyler Maxwell and Miguel Arias were there. So was Rob Fuentes, a candidate for the State Center Community College Board of Trustees.
“(I’m) definitely in support of the councilman,” Fuentes said outside the courthouse.
Judge Arlan Harrell presided for the day, in place of regular Judge Jon Kapetan.
No explanation was given for Kapetan’s absence. It caught Esparza’s legal team by surprise.
“I am unable to provide information on a judge’s, or any court personnel’s, schedule,” a court spokesperson told GV Wire.