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Extortion case against Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza will move forward

Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza and his legal team.
Soreath Hok
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza appears in federal court on Thursday, November 10, 2022.

A Fresno County Superior Court Judge on Thursday denied a motion to dismiss Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza’s attempted felony extortion case. Judge Brian Alvarez heard testimony from former Fresno City attorney Doug Sloan, who initiated the complaint against Esparza.

In the hearing, Sloan was questioned about a conversation that he had back in April with Esparza. He accused the council president of threatening to fire him if he worked with council members outside of the Democratic majority.

Attorneys for Esparza argued that the conversation should be covered under attorney-client privilege and therefore provided grounds for dismissal. Sloan denied the claim.

“Well, for two reasons mainly, I believe it was not attorney-client privileged. One - it was a threat. And two - it did not involve legal advice,” Sloan said.

Former Fresno City Attorney Doug Sloan
Soreath Hok
Former Fresno City attorney Doug Sloan appears on the witness stand. Sloan initiated the complaint that led to charges against Esparza.

In his ruling, the judge pointed out that the details of the conversation in question were already made public in a defamation lawsuit Esparza had filed back in May against city council member Garry Bredefeld. The District 6 council member had accused Esparza of corruption in connection to the conversation with Doug Sloan. Esparza later dropped the lawsuit. But the judge says the details of the complaint remained in the court’s records and he argued, subject to public scrutiny.

“It's not been taken down and there's been no assertion otherwise that anything in it should not be considered. It's a public document that the court found in evidence and took as evidence,” Alvarez said.

The judge determined that by filing the civil complaint, attorney-client privilege was waived. Esparza made a statement outside the courthouse following the judge’s decision.

“At this point, we remain unconcerned and undeterred about the status of the case. We have said from the beginning that we look forward to the process and the proceedings. Moving forward, we’ll look forward to exonerating the case on the basis of the facts,” he said.

The preliminary hearing will begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday next week. Doug Sloan will be back on the witness stand.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.