FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) –  Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza made his first court appearance inside a Fresno Superior courtroom on Tuesday for two charges including extortion.

The appearance comes months after claims surfaced that Esparza told the former city attorney to only work for the council majority or be fired.

Esparza was set to be arraigned and enter a plea but the hearing was pushed back until October 27th. On that date, the judge will hear a motion to dismiss from the defense claiming the conversation between the city attorney and Esparza was protected under attorney-client privilege.

Esparza was surrounded by taxpayer-funded attorneys for the hearing in a jam-packed courtroom.

“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 toward resolving this case and finally engaged and started the process,” said Esparza directly after the hearing.

Esparza faces a felony extortion charge and misdemeanor violation of the city charter charge brought forward by District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.

The DA filed the charges after Councilmember Garry Bredefeld brought forward allegations that Esparza extorted former City Attorney Doug Sloan.

In an email, Sloan alleged Council President Esparza told him: “I’m just going to cut to the chase, I’m standing between you and you losing your job. From now on you are to work only for the Council majority.”

Sloan resigned and now works for the City of Santa Monica.

Attorney Mark Coleman will argue next month that the case should be dismissed because Sloan works as an attorney for the council and Esparza. The motion says the conversation is protected by attorney-client privilege and is protected.

“Anything they said was covered by attorney-client privilege,” said Coleman.

Councilmembers Tyler Maxwell and Miguel Arias attended Esparza’s court hearing. Arias alleges the charges are a political move.

“President Esparza is the latest victim of the District Attorney who has decided to use her office against democratic leaders,” said Arias.

Smittcamp declined to comment. According to documents, the city is paying around $600 an hour for Esparza’s attorneys. The Council approved the decision to pay for Esparza’s defense in a closed session but never reported it out to the public.

According to a memo sent out to council members, the council is paying for Esparza’s defense to protect the city from future litigation. The memo also stated a possible Brown Act violation because the council did not report out of the closed session that they decided to approve funding Esparza’s defense. The legal counsel advises the city council to report the action in the next meeting to avoid a cease and desist letter from the District Attorney.