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$4.5 Million Lawsuit Against Fresno Councilmember Will Continue, Judge Rules



A judge ruled Esmeralda Soria (right) can defend herself in a defamation lawsuit brought on by Fresno City Council colleague Mike Karbassi. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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A Fresno city councilmember will be allowed to defend herself from a defamation lawsuit brought by one of her elected colleagues, a judge ruled Wednesday.

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David Taub

Politics 101

Councilman Mike Karbassi sought a default judgment against Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria — hoping for an automatic victory because Soria did not respond to his lawsuit in time. While attorneys representing the parties bickered in court, they ultimately agreed to let the lawsuit proceed. Karbassi is seeking $4.5 million in damages.

Karbassi claims Soria defamed him in a campaign mailer sent while the two were running against each other for state Assembly during the June primary. Soria advanced to the general election in November; Karbassi finished fourth in a four-person field.

In court, Karbassi’s attorney Brian Whelan called Soria’s motion to set aside a default judgement as “political theater.” Soria’s attorney wrote to Whelan that serving Soria with the lawsuit was “an attempt to harass, embarrass and to try to create a spectacle for you and your client.”

Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Gaab had the parties agree to allow the case to proceed. Soria’s legal camp says they intend to file an anti-SLAPP motion. Such motions argue that a lawsuit like Karbassi’s is invalid because it would impinge on protected speech. If granted, it would in essence end the suit.

After the hearing, Whelan and Soria attorney Jeffrey Einsohn shook hands with a wish to engage in civility. Thirty seconds later, the two were bickering over issues during the elevator ride down.

Both Karbassi and Soria’s campaign say they are paying lawsuit costs with campaign funds. Recent campaign financial reports show Soria paid her attorney $5,000; Karbassi paid Whelan’s law firm $450. Both figures are through June 30.

Also in Politics 101 …

  • Rep. Conway wants local water hearing.
  • Millions for local job training program.
  • Governor appoints Fresnan to state board.

Conway Wants Local Hearing on Water

Rep. Connie Conway, R-Tulare, is asking for a hearing to take place in the Central Valley regarding local water crisis.

Conway serves on the Natural Resources Committee. She sent a letter to the committee chairman, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, asking him to visit the Valley.

“As you are likely aware, the Central Valley of California, my home, has been plagued by drought that has caused persistent, severe water shortages for our families and farmers,” Conway wrote Grijalva.

Grijalva has visited the Central Valley before. He took a water tour with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and then-Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, in 2019.

Costa Touts $23 Million Job Creation Grant

Local workforce training programs received a $23 million boost in federal grants.

Through the Good Jobs Challenge — funded by the American Rescue Plan Act —  Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, which will “create good-paying jobs in financial services, manufacturing, transportation, and construction industries” according to a news release from Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Costa says the workforce training will include manufacturing, construction, financial services and more.

Fresno EDC was one of 32 recipients of the program.

Fresnan Appointed to State Board

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Eleanor Uribe to the state Board of Behavioral Sciences. The governor’s office says she’s been Faculty Field Liaison at Fresno State since 2012. She has a background in social work.

The board oversees the licensing and enforcement of standards for mental health professionals.

The state Senate needs to confirm her appointment. Uribe — registered as no party preference — will be compensated $100 per diem.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email