Marek Warszawski

After Assemblyman Arambula’s acquittal, DA sure sounds like politician she claims she isn’t

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula found not guilty in misdemeanor child abuse trial

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula not guilty in misdemeanor child abuse trial involving his 7-year-old daughter, in Superior Court, Thursday, May 16, 2019.
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Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula not guilty in misdemeanor child abuse trial involving his 7-year-old daughter, in Superior Court, Thursday, May 16, 2019.

For someone who insists she isn’t a politician, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp sure did a fine impersonation of one last week.

Smittcamp couldn’t even wait until the verdict in the misdemeanor child abuse trial of Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula had been read before rendering her own judgment in the form of statements to multiple local media outlets.

“It is the job of the jury to assess the evidence received and render a verdict,” Smittcamp said in an emailed statement to The Bee. “In this case, the voice of the child was heard. Whatever the verdict, that is justice.”

Fair enough. But when the jury pronounced Arambula not guilty, after only a few hours of deliberations, Smittcamp’s words sounded less like an unbiased officer of the court and more like sour grapes.

“My reaction to the verdict is one of sadness for the child because she said on more than one occasion that her father bruised her temple,” Smittcamp told GV Wire.

“While I respect the jury’s verdict, it’s a sad day for all children who are forced to live in environments where they can be subject to physical injury.

“The circus created by the defense caused the jury to have enough reasonable doubt (for acquittal), but that doesn’t change the fact the child reiterated again and again that her father caused the injury.”

Huh. And I thought “whatever the verdict, that is justice.”

When Smittcamp’s side loses a high-profile case, evidently not. Then it’s OK for her to take the jury’s verdict, crumple it up and shove it into her back pocket while besmirching someone pronounced innocent in a court of law.

Is that justice or a smear job?

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula makes a statement to the media after being found not guilty in his misdemeanor child abuse trial involving his 7-year-old daughter, in Superior Court, Thursday, May 16, 2019.

Smittcamp wasn’t done, either. She went on to claim that testimony by a key prosecution witness (Arambula’s 7-year-old daughter) was “most certainly” influenced by her family and that the “muddying” of the child was done by the defense.

Is that really how an officer of the court should conduct herself? By re-litigating the case in the media?

Two months ago, I defended Smittcamp against Arambula’s claim that the charges against him were politically motivated. If Arambula has proof the DA is taking things this far because she’s a Republican and he’s a Democrat, I wrote, then he should lay it out.

I still believe that, though Smittcamp’s comments are eyebrow raising.

Remember how Smittcamp responded to Arambula’s claim? By saying, “I am a prosecutor, not a politician. I don’t play politics.”

Those words were mostly greeted with an eye-roll, as they should’ve been. First of all, the district attorney of Fresno County is an elected office. Smittcamp campaigned for the job. She courted votes. Which makes her a politician AND a prosecutor. No way around that.

By reasserting that Arambula caused her daughter’s injury and implying the Arambula household is an environment where children get hurt, Smittcamp sure didn’t sound like someone who respects the verdict of 12 jurors. She sounded like someone lobbying for public support and blaming the other side.

Just like a politician.

Lisa Smittcamp 2018 sm.jpg
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp Contributed Fresno County District Attorney's Office

Here’s something else that caught my attention: Both Smittcamp and Assistant DA Steve Wright, who tried the Arambula case, made post-trial statements that served as a warning to child abusers.

“I hope people realize that no matter who you are or what you do for a living, if you hurt a child we are going to do what we can to hold you accountable for it,” Wright said.

Great. Hurting a child is bad – no matter who does it – and it’s good to know authorities will take this crime seriously. But those statements also raise questions: Is the DA’s office going to add more staff and devote more resources to prosecuting these types of cases? Will we see more people stand trial for misdemeanor child abuse, even when Child Protective Services returns the child to their parents straight away and their reports are inconclusive?

Because if the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then the words of Smittcamp and Wright are nothing but hot air and empty rhetoric.

You know. Kind of like a politician.

Smittcamp, who did not reply to my email seeking clarification on her comments, did not create this incident. If Arambula’s daughter doesn’t go to school with a developing bruise near her left eye, none of this happens. That bruise is why the girl’s teachers alerted the police, who began an investigation – as both are legally bound to do.

But the highly unusual decision to bring a misdemeanor case to trial was made by Smittcamp alone. No matter her reasons, she had to know what happened in that courtroom would further divide our community along political and racial lines.

Maybe that was Smittcamp’s intention all along, which is why she continued to tarnish Arambula’s reputation when the verdict didn’t go her way.

I’d expect nothing less from a politician.

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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.