West Seattle Crime Watch: Plea deal in domestic-violence arson

(6/28/2011 photo courtesy Kathryn)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

One of our periodic peeks into various court files to check on ongoing cases has just yielded news: There’s been a plea bargain in last June’s arson/domestic violence case in Gatewood. It happened three weeks ago, but we just spotted it now, and it does not appear anyone else has reported this yet. The fire happened on June 28th; the only person hurt was the defendant and home co-owner, 40-year-old John C. Siegel, whose injuries were later described as self-inflicted. He was found sitting outside the home as it burned.

The case drew extra citywide attention because Siegel had just gotten out of jail a month earlier after a plea bargain in a domestic-violence case that also yielded a charge of threatening a judge (as reported by Seattle Weekly). He is a lawyer and has been representing himself in this case, as he did in that one; the list of files in the four-month-old arson case is longer than many lists from cases that have been going on for years, and full of documents he wrote by hand while in jail (where he’s been since the fire). Here’s what we found out about Siegel’s plea bargain:

Siegel has entered what is called an “Alford plea,” in which the defendant says, basically, I’m not saying I’m guilty, but I’m saying the evidence would probably lead a judge or jury to find me guilty. He has entered that plea to the arson charge – which prosecutors reduced to second-degree arson/domestic violence – as well as three charges of violating a court order/domestic violence (regarding his estranged wife, who also owned the house he set on fire, but was not home at the time).

As part of the plea bargain, the state will recommend a 17-month sentence for the arson charge, and 20 months for the court-order-violation charges. Court documents also say that any residual time from the previous domestic-violence/judge-threat case would be served concurrently with that new term. Siegel would also pay restitution, to be determined, for the fire damage, which investigators estimated at more than $100,000. (It’s not clear what resources he would have for handling that, since he was reported to be staying at the house before the fire because he had been otherwise homeless.)

Siegel remains in jail pending his sentencing before King County Superior Court Judge Beth Andrus, set for December 9th.

ADDED 1:29 PM: We had a message out to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to confirm a few things from the documents. One thing worth noting, from that exchange: According to KCPAO spokesperson Dan Donohoe, the 17- and 20-month sentences would be concurrent, for a total sentence of 20 months, if the recommendations are followed by the judge.

14 Replies to "West Seattle Crime Watch: Plea deal in domestic-violence arson"

  • mookie November 17, 2011 (11:33 am)

    Dangerous narcissist sociopath who needs to be locked away longer than that, IMHO. Thank you for the update.

  • MEJ November 17, 2011 (12:11 pm)

    I imagine that Mr. Siegel’s antics could put his license to practice law in jeopardy. I wonder at what point this case would come to the state bar’s attention?

  • Jim P. November 17, 2011 (12:23 pm)

    “It’s not clear what resources he would have for handling that”

    It is claimed he’s a lawyer, he’ll sue someone for a tort or start one of those highly profitable class-action suits where the attorneys are the only people to actually get anything valuable out of it and everyone else gets a chit for 75 bucks off their next purchase of a Rolls-Royce or something.

  • cj November 17, 2011 (12:37 pm)

    I don’t understand why this mental case is getting off so easy, as he is clearly dangerous. What if a neighbor’s house had caught on fire and they were killed?

  • Irukandji November 17, 2011 (1:57 pm)

    The State Bar Association overlooks a whole lot of crazy and dangerous behavior: domestic violence and child molestation, for some reason, are not a concern under the ‘moral turpitude’ clause of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The organization DOES take action when a client’s case and/or money is mishandled. It cannot assure you that the attorney you are hiring hasn’t been found civilly or criminally to have caused great harm.

  • waterworld November 17, 2011 (3:49 pm)

    Irukandji: I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but it’s wrong. The Rules of Professional Conduct specifically prohibit acts of “moral turpitude,” and the state Supreme Court has held that a lawyer who commits a class A felony that is a crime of moral turpitude will be disbarred. That decision was made in a case where a lawyer was convicted of child molestation. Virtually any case of sexual violence is going to be a Class A felony, and a lawyer who is caught and convicted is not going to be practicing law anymore.
    Not all felonies are Class A felonies — so if the crime is a Class B or C felony or a misdemeanor, the lawyer has a better chance of being suspended instead of disbarred. In any case involving physical violence or sexual assault, though, the lawyer will be facing either disbarment or a long suspension.
    It’s true that the bar association routinely takes action when a lawyer mishandles a client’s case or money. That’s hardly surprising, though, considering that the overwhelming majority of situations where lawyers are referred to the bar for behaving unethically involve the lawyers’ professional work — namely, doing a poor job for clients or mishandling or stealing clients’ money. I have not seen, though, that the bar association “overlooks” crimes committed by its members. When a lawyer is convicted of a crime, any crime, the court automatically reports the case to the bar for investigation. Honestly, I cannot recall hearing about any case where a lawyer was convicted of something and the bar let it go without discipline.

  • bridge to somewhere November 17, 2011 (3:52 pm)

    another DV loser gets a slap on the wrist. 20 months for violating a no-contact order to set an estranged wife’s house on fire? less than 2 years? really?

  • Kate K November 17, 2011 (6:36 pm)

    Imagine if he was 25 year old male minority for the same crime. He’d be looking at 20 years. Not fair.

  • ElevenTruckmen November 17, 2011 (7:27 pm)

    Two other people were injured at this fire. Two firefighters from Engine 37 were burned and one went to the hospital and missed work. Arson is a major factor in fireground injuries. The fires are unusual in their growth rates and often catch Fire departments off guard. This fire had two rooms lit at the same time creating 2 times as much heat in the same amount of time. Factor in that he used accelerants and it makes for a deadly scenario for the 20+ firefighters on scene.

    • WSB November 17, 2011 (8:36 pm)

      Sorry, Eleven, but that was never revealed to media so far as I can tell from going back and reading our stories … it’s definitely something I would have mentioned. I hope they have recovered OK by now … TR

  • voiceofreason November 18, 2011 (9:11 am)

    Perhaps all the celebrity guest lawywers here would care to discuss what many people don’t realize – that you cant have an instant “DV” case simply for having a loud, angry argument with your spouse. Statistically, of men or women in such cases, who do you think is most likely to take the rap for it?

    Maybe he didn’t get a lot of time, because it wasn’t a really serious PHYSICAL situation. But of course all the busybodys here jump to all kinds of conclusions, floating in their imaginary delusional cloud of superiority and sanctimony.

  • bridge to somewhere November 18, 2011 (12:44 pm)

    @voiceofreason: it was kind of hard to piece together your point given the awkward sentence construction and the haze of my “cloud of superiority,” but apparently the gist is: people are being blamed for DV all the time who aren’t guilty. Is that right? Furthermore, you suggest that the small 20 month sentence was because “it wasn’t really a serious PHYSICAL [sic] situation.” Perhaps you who are wiser than us “busybodies” can explain how arson isn’t a serious “PHYSICAL” situation. Help me, the uninformed, understand how fire isn’t a physical situation please.
    Your very humbled busybody.

  • Irukandji November 18, 2011 (12:49 pm)

    @waterworld – Since findings of civil liability or finding of fact are not the same as criminal conviction, the bar has been known to handle those outcomes differently. A civil finding in a sealed file doesn’t warrant the same level of bar intervention as a criminal conviction that makes the news.
    Hence, a disordered, violent, addicted, or otherwise awful person keeps practicing law, perhaps with some restriction (say, no GAL practice), but can go on practicing, perhaps, family law in front of the same court that made the findings of fact of horrible and damaging behavior. Can’t represent the dependent or children, so move on to the next closest thing that allows access to the caretakers of the vulnerable.
    Meanwhile, clients share their private and family info with a presumed professional attorney with no awareness of or protection from past behavior that the court itself is aware of: abuse, incest, domestic violence, whatever.
    Plenty creepy.

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