History/Bio

Overview

For more than 25 years, I have represented people who don't always have the resources to take on litigation against the big powerful institutions of our society: big corporations, insurance companies and governments. I have the experience, the brains, the chutzpa, the resource and the desire to fight on your behalf. I have represented people in many of California's counties. I have spent my life in public service because I believe in it. I am passionate about it.

Family Background

I am the youngest of four brothers born and raised in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. My late father David Siegal was an early organizer and subsequent president of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ Union in New York City. This union recently merged with Textile and Garment Workers Union and is currently known as UNITE HERE. In its heyday, the union represented restaurant workers in such famous New York establishments as Toots Shor’s Restaurant, Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant, Tavern on the Green, Maxwell’s Plum, and The Latin Quarter.

In the 1930s and 1940s, my father fought to organize a union free of control by organized criminals and mobsters such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (no relation), Meyer Lansky and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. In the 1950s, he fought to keep the union progressive yet free of domination from the Communist Party.

Influences

In the 1960s and 1970s, the formative years of my education and social development, I was blessed to be part of a family that was dedicated to and active in the incredible fight for justice taking place in this country. Our family home and union headquarters were host to guests who played critical roles in the Civil Rights Movement, including César Chávez; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Robert F. Kennedy; New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr.; Indira Gandhi; and New York City Council President Paul O'Dwyer.

Education

In 1973, I was awarded the prestigious New York State Regents Scholarship. After an undergraduate career that included academics, activism and athletics, I obtained a B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany. Next, I enrolled in Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in New York City, a school particularly established to focus on real-world workplace issues. After obtaining certification from Cornell, I followed the lead of many in my generation by traveling and exploring the world.

My trip took me to the far reaches of the globe. I traveled to India and lived in two ashrams where I explored meditation, yoga and Vedanta. I traveled to the Soviet Union, where I helped produce a series of folk-music concerts starring the famous “Singing Rabbi,” Shlomo Carlebach. I traveled through Europe, where I explored both the beauty of European culture and, upon observing the Nazi concentration camps, its dark side as well.

After consulting with a long-time family friend and distinguished member of Nixon’s Enemy List, Sid Davidoff, in 1978 I enrolled in California Western School of Law in San Diego.

Bill Walton and the Grateful Dead

One day during my first year of law school, I was on a jog near the San Diego Zoo and met NBA star Bill Walton, who had just signed a contract to play with the San Diego Clippers. We became instant and close friends, probably because we had so much in common: a devastating hook shot, an intense dislike of Richard Nixon, and nothing but love for the Grateful Dead.

Within weeks, Walton invited me to accompany him to San Francisco for the Dead’s New Year’s Eve show at Winterland Ballroom. The opening act that night was The Blues Brothers. Aside from falling in love with San Francisco on that trip and vowing to make the City by the Bay my home, I have fond memories of sitting on a couch backstage between Jerry Garcia and John Belushi.

A few weeks later, I personally met “Ramrod,” the legendary president of the Grateful Dead, and head of the road crew. Ramrod and I became close friends and even before I had graduated from law school, I was assisting the band with its legal issues. For example, I guided the band’s charitable foundation on contributions to the San Francisco Unified School District for the purchase of new musical instruments. When Ramrod and his wife, prepared their estate plan, they showed their trust and confidence in me by designating me as the executer of their estate, and much Grateful Dead memorabilia.

Legal Career

I began to learn in earnest in 1983 as an apprentice to noted labor and civil rights lawyer Jerry Garchik. No sooner had I been admitted to the California Bar than I found myself working on one of the most significant civil rights cases ever to affect the Chinese Community in America: the Henry Liu wrongful death case. We represented the family of Chinese journalist Henry Liu, who was assassinated at his home in Daly City, California, by agents of the DIB, the Taiwanese equivalent of the CIA. The case, which was ultimately heard before the U.S. Supreme Court (Liu v. Republic of China, 892 F.2d 1419 (9th Cir. 1989) cert. denied 497 U.S. 1058 (1990), was also profiled on the CBS news show Sixty Minutes.

Like other immigrant communities in America, the Chinese community is fascinating and multifaceted. Working with the Chinese community in Northern California reminded me very much of the significant work I had done with the Irish community in New York City when I worked for the former president of the New York City Council, Paul O'Dwyer, and his son, New York attorney Brian O'Dwyer.

Aside from the significant work of having our cases heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, my working with Jerry Garchik was also a lot of fun. Jerry's wife Leah Garchik is a noted gossip columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle. Dinner parties at their home were always very interesting. One night I met one of Jerry's Harvard Law classmates and author of The Paper Chase, John Osborn, who told me that one of the characters in that novel is modeled after Jerry. I still share office space with Jerry and several other top-rated lawyers. We are friends and colleagues and have developed a wonderful network of excellent and caring professionals.

Early in my legal career, while an adjunct professor at San Francisco Law School, the daughter of one of my students was sexually molested at the Presidio Army Base Day Care Center. I ended up representing several families whose children were sexually assaulted and abused there by an army colonel with ties to the Church of Satan. I was one of several plaintiffs' lawyers in the case, which involved sixty-six children. A plaintiffs' lawyers committee was formed that included noted San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli. The experience gave me the opportunity to work with and befriend some of the best lawyers in Northern California.

Sexual and fiduciary abuse has become an area of law that I have litigated about frequently in recent years. In 2004 I successfully represented a woman who was sexually assaulted by her physician at a prominent San Francisco teaching hospital. In 2006 I successfully represented a young woman who had recently immigrated to America from Africa. She had been sexually assaulted by her parish priest, also a recent African immigrant. Through pretrial discovery, research and the use of expert witnesses (including a prominent former priest and Vatican historian), we were able to establish that although celibacy is a tenet of the church in Europe and in America, it is not so in Africa, and that upon his arrival in the United States, the priest was not properly trained. We obtained a significant victory.

Not all cases I take on are high-profile. In fact, many cases I accept are the kind of cases that you don't read about in the newspapers but truly affect people’s lives. For example, I successfully represented a family whose young baby was severely burned by a fireplace in a hotel room. I also represented a young woman whose mother was tragically killed in a vehicle accident caused by a tire service truck. In addition, I have successfully represented clients in environmental accidents, such as exposures to chemicals and toxins. I represented several victims of serious personal injuries when their van was struck by an 18-wheeler along the Grapevine in California. I also represent several motorcycle victims who were struck by various types of trucks.

Some of my cases have become matters of public record because the verdicts and settlements are significant. For more information please see the results section of my website.

Family Life

I am married to Revital Siegal, an executive at a leading research university with offices in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. Together we have two young daughters, Maya and Nava. Our youngest daughter is adopted from Guatemala.

Admission to the California Bar

I have been a member of the California Bar for more than 25 years. I am a tireless advocate on behalf of anyone in need of justice. My practice focuses on the areas of Personal Injury, Labor and Employment, and Family Law Mediation.

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  • Joel H. Siegal
  • David Siegel leads a picket line at Toots Shor’s Restaurant
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • My father and President Kennedy
  • My father with Indira Gandhi
  • The “Singing Rabbi,” Shlomo Carlebach
  • NBA star Bill Walton
  • The Grateful Dead
  • Great Irish-American Paul O'Dwyer
  • Chinese journalist Henry Liu
  • United Farmworkers' Union March
  • My Family
  • With Maya Siegal
  • With Nava Siegal