Arambula charged with child abuse, takes leave from California Assembly

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, has taken a voluntary leave of absence from the California State Assembly following the Fresno County District Attorney’s office decision to charge him with misdemeanor child abuse.

Arambula was arrested and released in December. The DA’s office announced its plans Tuesday.

In a statement made through his attorney, Margarita Martinez-Baly, Arambula said he and his wife were “shocked” at the district attorney’s decision.

“The allegation that I may have harmed one of my daughters is false and unthinkable,” Arambula said. “While politics may have influenced the decision to file, we are confident that our judicial system will find this allegation to be false.”

Arambula said he has asked his attorney for “a speedy trial so this issue can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

The DA’s office responded to Arambula’s claim of possible political motivation, saying:

“Any claim that the decision to file charges is politically motivated is absolutely 100 percent not correct. We base our filing decisions on the law and evidence collected during the investigation. Because this is an ongoing criminal case, we will not be commenting on the facts of the case.”

The district attorney’s complaint filed in Fresno County Superior Court alleges one count of cruelty to a child by inflicting physical pain or mental suffering.

If convicted, Arambula, 41, faces a sentence of up to six months imprisonment.

Arraignment set for Wednesday

He is scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Fresno police arrested Arambula on Dec. 10 after responding to a call from his 7-year-old daughter’s elementary school. Arambula and his wife have stressed his innocence, saying he spanked the child on her buttocks as part of normal family discipline. Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer was just as certain a crime had been committed, saying Arambula’s daughter suffered an injury that was not on her buttocks.

Dyer said that spanking a child on the buttocks is typically legal in California, provided it does not result in injury.

Arambula was cited on a misdemeanor charge of willful cruelty to a child after his arrest and released. He regained custody of his daughters two days later. He has continued to serve in the Assembly, and he was not stripped of any committee positions.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon issued a statement in reaction to Arambula’s charge.

“For those of us who know and respect Assemblyman Arambula, we know this has been a difficult experience for him and his family. Due to the seriousness of the allegation and the need for due process, I respect his decision to take an unpaid leave from the Assembly while he addresses this charge.”

Rendon said he will appoint Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes as interim chair of the budget subcommittee on health and human services during Arambula’s absence.

In December, Rendon announced that Arambula would keep his chairmanship of the Assembly’s budget subcommittee on health and human services, as well as his seven other committee and subcommittee posts.

On Monday, Arambula led a subcommittee hearing that included oversight of childhood trauma grants.

Republicans call for resignation

The Fresno County Republican Party called for Arambula to resign after his arrest in December, and chairman Fred Vanderhoof reiterated the GOP’s position Tuesday.

“He’s been charged, and if he’s convicted, he should resign,” Vanderhoof said. “I think that would be best for his family.”

Michael Evans, chair of the county Democrats, urged the public Tuesday to let the criminal justice process play out before rushing to any judgment.

“In our justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty,” Evans said. “We will let the process play out with the various legal entities and see what happens.”

Medical board ‘looking into it’

Arambula, a physician, could also face discipline from the state medical board.

Carlos Villatoro, a spokesman for the Medical Board of California, said in December his agency had learned of Arambula’s arrest and “was looking into it.”

Villatoro said the board does not comment on whether a physician is being investigated. His license was current and showed no disciplinary action as of Tuesday.

In general, investigations are triggered in a variety of ways and often take weeks or months to complete, as several agencies – including the Department of Consumer Affairs and the state attorney general’s office – are involved, Villatoro said.

Arambula first won election to the state Assembly in 2016, when he won a special election to fill the 31st District seat after Henry T. Perea resigned. Arambula won re-election in the 2016 and 2018 general elections by wide margins.

He is the son of former Assemblyman Juan Arambula, who represented the 31st District from 2004-10.

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.