Arambula pleads not guilty to child cruelty charge

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- California Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula may have a tough road ahead as a child cruelty charge carries legal and political ramifications.

"It's a very difficult charge to defend against because it could be any injury to a child," said legal analyst Marc Kapetan.

Attorneys for the Democrat entered a not-guilty plea Wednesday and lashed out at the police and prosecutors behind the case, which could go to trial as soon as next month.

Dr. Arambula wasn't there when his attorneys launched their courtroom defense against a child cruelty charge. Like most misdemeanor defendants, he won't have to appear until a trial.

But his attorneys say he offered to talk to prosecutors earlier to head off a criminal charge.

"We have offered to meet with the district attorney's office," said defense attorney Michael Aed. "We offered to present Dr. Arambula to the district attorney's office for an interview prior to a filing decision."

Aed and Margarita Martinez-Baly say they're disappointed at the decision, which they called 100% political.

But Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer said the arrest last year was 100% about justice -- and officers did it without his knowledge.

"Our officers were simply doing their job," Dyer said. "They were called to the school to investigate a crime of child abuse, the evidence was present and they made an arrest."

Defense attorneys only started reviewing evidence Wednesday, but they're pushing for a quick trial, hoping to clear his name.

"You know, when it does come to political ramifications, whether this is political or not, there can be ramifications and one of them is he's got to file for election again somewhere in 2019, correct?" an Action News reporter asked the defense attorneys. "So you want to have this resolved by then?"

"That's one of the points," Aed said. "I mean, the bottom line, we've set this case for trial in a speedy fashion. He expects to be vindicated and have his case heard in the court of law rather than the court of public opinion."

Kapetan, the legal analyst, says it's a tough case to defend because it could involve any injury to a child that's not considered reasonable discipline.

And, he says, Dr. Arambula's prior statements could come back to haunt him.

Arambula told Action News he simply spanked the girl, but Chief Dyer told us the child had injuries to a different part of her body.

And even if he's found not guilty at trial, Kapetan says the political damage may be done.

"You just can't unring that bell," Kapetan said. "Once there's an allegation made it's hard to unring that bell even if you're completely exonerated."

Arambula's case comes back to court next month and the trial could start before April is out.
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