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Fresno City Council extortion accusations lead to defamation lawsuit

Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza files defamation lawsuit against District 6 council member Garry Bredefeld
Soreath Hok
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza files defamation lawsuit against District 6 council member Garry Bredefeld

Garry Bredefeld called Nelson Esparza's lawsuit Monday, "bogus." The lawsuit claimed Bredefeld made statements that were "knowingly false."

Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza on Monday filed a defamation and libel lawsuit against fellow councilmember Garry Bredefeld over public accusations he made on Friday. In a news conference, Bredefeld accused Esparza of corruption, saying he threatened to fire City Attorney Doug Sloan if he worked for City Council members outside of the Democratic majority including Bredefeld, Luis Chavez and Mike Karbassi.

In an email to ABC30 Friday, Sloan relayed the conversation he had with Esparza in which he was instructed to “work only for the Council majority.” The lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court describes that conversation as an “unscheduled stop” on April 22 that Sloan made to Esparza’s office to discuss an April 21 resolution that barred councilmembers from using information from the city attorney’s office to obtain legal opinions for the purpose of investigating other councilmembers. It was in response to councilmembers discussing Bredefeld’s alleged use of information for political attacks. Esparza’s lawsuit states that “At no time did plaintiff Esparza direct, order, imply or suggest to Mr. Sloan that he should work for ‘the majority’ of the Council or only for any certain Councilmembers to the exclusion of any others.”

Esparza issued a statement Monday: “The lawsuit speaks for itself. I am focused on our work at City Hall. We have the city budget coming up very shortly and I will continue to work with the City Attorney’s Office and my Council colleagues in order to deliver for Fresno residents.”

In response, Bredefeld issued a statement of his own: “Nelson Esparza in this bogus lawsuit is essentially calling the City Attorney, Doug Sloan a liar and that what Mr. Sloan stated publicly is not true. Mr. Sloan personally expressed to me and others at City Hall that he felt Esparza attempted to extort him and I shared this information with the public and law enforcement agencies. Mr. Sloan is a very credible and highly regarded attorney who has been the City Attorney for 9 years. The corruption at City Hall must end and Mr. Esparza must be held accountable for his actions. I will never be intimidated and this will not stop me from speaking the truth. Not now, not ever.”

Michael Trujillo, a spokesperson for Esparza says the lawsuit sends a “clear signal to Bredefeld” that Esparza’s office won’t back down. The lawsuit claims that Bredefeld made statements that were “knowingly false and were made with malice.” The lawsuit seeks damages for causing injury to Esparza’s reputation.

Meanwhile, Doug Sloan announced on Wednesday that he had accepted a new position as the city attorney for Santa Monica.

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.