Written by Breanna Hardy
Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza filed a defamation lawsuit against Councilmember Garry Bredefeld on Monday, according to Fresno County Superior Court records.
The lawsuit comes after Bredefeld hosted a press conference May 13 outlining what he alleges is an attempted extortion of City Attorney Doug Sloan by Esparza.
Esparza’s lawsuit states that Sloan made an “unscheduled stop” by Esparza’s office on April 22, a day after Sloan’s job performance evaluation was discussed in closed session. Esparza also discussed a resolution the council had passed in open session stating that for a period until July 21, councilmembers couldn’t seek legal opinions from the city attorney to be used against fellow councilmembers.
“Plaintiff Esparza informed Mr. Sloan that, in his assessment, several Council members were displeased with the fact that his City Attorney’s office had been weaponized for partisan purposes by Garry Bredefeld,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit underlines, “At no time did plaintiff Esparza direct, order, imply or suggest to Mr. Sloan that he should work only for ‘the majority’ of the Council or only for any certain Councilmembers to the exclusion of any others.”
Attempts to reach Sloan were unsuccessful, but ABC30 journalist Corin Hoggard reported on Sunday that Sloan had emailed him regarding the accusations first reported by Bredefeld.
“I’m just going to cut to the chase,” Sloan says Esparza told him, in Hoggard’s reporting. “I’m standing between you and you losing your job. From now on, you are to work only for the council majority.”
The lawsuit includes Bredefeld’s comparison of Esparza to Al Capone, along with Bredefeld’s accusation that Esparza was “extorting charter officials with threats of firing them if they don’t do his bidding.”
The suit says that the statements and accusations made by Bredefeld were knowingly false and made with malice.
“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,” said Esparza in a statement Monday.
Bredefeld responded to the lawsuit late Monday evening.
“Nelson Esparza in his 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 was extorting him and I shared this information with the public and law enforcement agencies,” he said. “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 accountable for his actions. I will never be intimidated and this lawsuit will not stop me from speaking the truth. Not now, not ever.”
A hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for Sept. 15.