Marek Warszawski

Arambula case has dragged on long enough. Time for DA to charge him, or let him be

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula discusses the spanking that led to his arrest

31st District Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula and his wife, Elizabeth, in an interview Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 in Fresno, discuss the spanking he gave to his daughter that led to his arrest.
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31st District Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula and his wife, Elizabeth, in an interview Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 in Fresno, discuss the spanking he gave to his daughter that led to his arrest.

How long does Joaquin Arambula keep twisting in the wind?

Two months have passed since the Fresno assemblyman’s well-publicized arrest for misdemeanor child abuse. Photographs of Arambula’s anguished visage taken during his public attempts at damage control remain the image we have of him.

The question now is this: Will those sorrowful eyes and clenched lips be the lasting image?

The Fresno County District Attorney’s office has until March 13, the date of Arambula’s scheduled court appearance, to decide whether to formally charge him. The case, according to Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright, remains under review.

I get that the wheels of justice turn slowly and deliberately. But in this instance Wright and his boss, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, need to grease the axles and come to a determination, pronto.

This drawn-out process for what should be a relatively simple investigation doesn’t serve anyone, least of all the citizens of south Fresno and western Fresno County who elected Arambula to represent them in our state capital.

If the charges are dropped, then Arambula needs to be able to continue the job the voters chose him to do without a cloud of suspicion hanging over him.

But if charges are filed, Arambula probably needs to resign.

This is not my attempt to adjudicate the case or tell anyone how they should feel about spanking their kids. It’s a deeply personal issue, shaped by our own values and upbringing.

I got spanked as a tyke, by both my parents, and don’t believe those experiences left any emotional scars. Each time there was a reason, and I was always told why I was being spanked whenever the belt (dad) or piece of Hot Wheels track (mom) came out. However, there are people who know a whole lot more about this subject than me who insist spanking makes kids more aggressive and doesn’t stop their misbehavior.

Except this isn’t about our own values and experiences. It’s about whether Arambula spanking his 7-year-old daughter on the evening of Dec. 9, 2018, constitutes parental discipline or willful cruelty to a child. That’s up to the DA.

Arambula, in a series of interviews days after his arrest, insisted he spanked his oldest daughter on the buttocks for disciplinary reasons – and as a last resort. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer cast doubt on that story by telling local media that the girl sustained “a small injury” to a different part of her body. (The scuttlebutt is she had a bruise on her back.)

While we can speculate whether Dyer’s retort was motivated by something other than the child’s welfare – and I’m not saying it was or wasn’t – none of that really matters. What does matter, at least in the court of opinion, is that the longer this drags out, the worse it looks for everyone involved.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula discusses the charges Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA Fresno Bee file

Arambula, through a spokesperson, declined multiple interview requests. Members of his staff, however, insist the assemblyman has not sat around idle during this period of tenuous uncertainty.

The 41-year-old Democrat remains chairman of the Assembly’s budget subcommittee on health and human services, while serving on seven other committees and subcommittees. He has authored one new bill, AB 4, a reintroduction of his previous legislation that would expand Medi-Cal coverage to all California residents with undocumented status.

“Lack of access to health care impacts not just the individual, but the families and children who depend on them,” Arambula said in a press release a week prior to his arrest. “We must do better to improve the quality of life for all.”

Considering how much of the central San Joaquin Valley economy depends on the backs of undocumented farm laborers, this only seems fair.

Arambula is sifting through 60 to 70 bill ideas with plans to introduce about 25 during this legislative session, chief of staff Hans Hemann said. The assemblyman’s budget subcommittee holds two hearings per week, for which he spends hours doing research and preparing questions for witnesses.

Arambula deserves our thanks for his dedication to the San Joaquin River Parkway. Many local politicians wax poetic about how they want to create public access to California’s second-longest river from its fifth-largest city, but few actually do anything.

In addition, I’m told Arambula played an integral role in smoothing things out between the state and city of Fresno on nearly $70 million in Transformative Climate Communities funding after the city missed key deadlines.

Since his arrest, Arambula has kept a low public profile. His staff has issued only one press release, and his Twitter account has been relatively dormant.

Considering his legal situation, this is all perfectly understandable. But that silence creates a vacuum, and the longer this drags on the harder it gets for Arambula to be an effective lawmaker.

Two months is long enough to keep anyone twisting in the wind on a misdemeanor charge, let alone someone elected to represent the interests of hundreds of thousands of Valley residents.

So either formally charge Arambula with a crime, in which case he has a decision to make, or cut him loose so that he can begin to regain our trust.

Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.