FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Fresno City Council president Nelson Esparza maintained his innocence during his arraignment on Thursday. Esparza is being accused of threatening the employment of former city attorney Doug Sloan if he didn’t work exclusively for the democrat-led majority members of the Fresno City Council. He’s facing charges including felony extortion.

“We did enter a not guilty plea, absolutely not guilty,” he said to reporters outside the courtroom. “Very disappointed today that we’re experiencing this two-week delay, but still very much looking forward to resolving this case.”

Esparza’s attorney, Mark Coleman, had filed a motion for case dismissal stating the conversation with Sloan was not admissible due to attorney-client privilege. But judge Alvin Harrell slated a pre-preliminary trial for November second. Esparza does not need to attend that court date. Harrell also scheduled the actual preliminary trial for November tenth. Esparza will have to be in court for those proceedings.   

“We look forward to being back here in a couple of weeks and bringing this to a very speedy resolution,” he said. 

The district attorney filed charges in July after councilmember Garry Bredefeld brought forward allegations that Esparza extorted the former city attorney during a private meeting at City Hall.

In an email, Esparza allegedly said to Sloan, “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.

Esparza filed a defamation suit against Bredefeld that he later dropped.

Democrat council members Esparza, Miguel Arias, Tyler Maxwell, and Esmeralda Soria are considered the council majority. Maxwell and Arias went to court on Thursday in a show of support for Esparza.

If Esparza is found guilty of his felony charge, he faces potential fines, jail time, and up to three years in state prison.