Marek Warszawski

This California assemblyman says he spanked his daughter. But the bruise wasn’t on her butt

Joaquin Arambula told us he occasionally disciplines his three daughters by spanking them on the butt, and only as a last resort.

Arambula’s attorneys, in their failed motion to dismiss the misdemeanor child abuse charges against him, tell us otherwise. They tell us Arambula’s 7-year-old went to school one morning last December with a one-inch bruise on the right side of her face. Likely caused by the ring the California assemblyman wore on his left hand as he slapped and squeezed her head the evening before.

Those two stories don’t mesh. A bruise on the head is nowhere close, both literally and figuratively, to a spanking on the butt. Which leaves Arambula with some explaining to do regardless of how things play out.

Honestly, it’s better for Arambula that Fresno Superior Court Judge Alvin Harrell let the trial proceed. Nor will it look good for him if key pieces of evidence are ruled inadmissible on some technicality.

Arambula’s lawyers might win the legal argument with that approach, but they won’t win much public sentiment. People who are truly innocent don’t need tricky legal maneuvering. Not when they’ve long insisted the truth is on their side.

And right now, based on what was shared by his own attorneys, it’s getting harder to believe Arambula did nothing beyond the bounds of normal parental discipline.

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The motion filed by Michael Aed and Margarita Martinez-Baly begins with a lengthy “statement of facts” chronicling what Arambula’s 7-year-old daughter told police, child protective services and a forensic investigator over a series of interviews. It also includes details of interviews between police and the girl’s teachers.

I’ve read the motion, and parts of it are disturbing. The 7-year-old told a CPS worker that her father picks her up and squeezes her until she can’t breathe. At other times, he’s kicked her. She said has seen him hit one of her sisters in the stomach and pick up and shake the other. She said her mother sometimes spanks her with a stick.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the discomfort.

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula listen to his attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly, right, in the hallway of Superior Court, Tuesday morning, April 23, 2019, for the beginning of his trial on a misdemeanor child cruelty charge stemming from his December arrest on allegations he injured his 7-year-old daughter. JOHN WALKER

If nothing else, this refutes the claim (made by Arambula himself) that the charges against him may be politically motivated. Not when his daughter shows up to school with a bruise on her head and tells everyone who asks that her dad caused it. Seeing and hearing that, how could the police simply look the other way?

Normally, I’d be skeptical of most everything that comes out of a 7-year-old’s mouth. But when reading the motion, what stands out is the consistency in her words as she described what caused the bruise as well as the argument and misunderstanding that preceded it.

Over multiple tellings the girl’s story didn’t change. Judge Harrell found the girl credible, and so do I.

By revealing key parts of the evidence now, before the Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright can present his case, Aed and Martinez-Baly are obviously trying to pop this trial balloon before the launch. Get the unfavorable morsels on the public’s plate right away so we can have time to digest them.

Unfortunately for them, most of what was released only served to paint Arambula in a negative light. Meaning even those who want to believe in his innocence are forced to take a step back and reassess.

I have a hard time seeing how this gets any better for Arambula, especially now that his lawyers have revealed their legal strategy. This won’t be a case of Arambula vs. Fresno County. Instead, it’ll essentially be Arambula’s word against the word of his own 7-year-old daughter.

Hard to see how that benefits anyone.

So far, Arambula has been resolute in his opposition to settling the case. I suggest he take another look at those options before going on the witness stand next week to discredit his own child.

Because if he does, the following question will be asked: What means more to Arambula, his political career or his family?

None of this is easy for me to write. I like Arambula and believe he has been a very good representative in Sacramento for the voters of the 31st District. (He is currently on a leave of absence for the duration of the trial.) While other local politicians talk about improving health care for families and children or establishing public access to the San Joaquin River, Arambula takes action.

That counts for a lot in my book, and the people of his district would be ill served by having him step aside.

However, the longer this trial plays out the uglier and more unseemly it’s going to get. Especially if Arambula’s attorneys cross-examine his own daughters in open court. How is that good for anybody, his own family most of all?

I’m not saying Arambula is guilty of child cruelty. That’s for a jury to decide. I’m saying it should never get that far. Arambula needs to think long and hard about taking a plea agreement and sparing his family any additional strife. Even if that means giving up his assembly seat.

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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.