Deval Patrick’s entry into the Democratic presidential contest has focused new attention on his 2014 decision as governor to push out two members of the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board who had sought to put his brother-in-law on the registry due to a rape conviction.
The case has been in the news even before Patrick’s announcement because his brother-in-law earlier this year was convicted of raping Patrick’s sister for a second time. The first rape conviction occurred in 1993.
In explaining why he pushed out the two Sex Offender Registry officials, Patrick asserted at the time that the officials had acted inappropriately when they sought to overturn a hearing officer’s decision not to place his brother-in-law on the registry. He acknowledged inserting himself into the case instead of recusing himself.
“That hearing did involve my brother-in-law, that is true. We’ve never made a secret of that, but it’s still inappropriate, and that’s the reason why I asked for her resignation,” Patrick said, referring to his decision to oust the chairwoman of the registry board.
Patrick, in a statement Friday to The Washington Post, defended his action in the case of his brother-in-law, Bernard Sigh. Patrick said he acted as governor to hold a public official accountable.
“Bernie Sigh’s impact on my family has been complex and painful for all of us,” Patrick said. “I love my sister and her children, and believe their chance to heal is best if left out of the public eye. But because of issues raised in a lawsuit filed against me as Governor, her experience is now part of the public record and it is important that the facts are clear.”
Attorneys for Patrick’s sister and brother-in-law did not respond to request for comment.
The matter has its origins in 1993, when Bernard Sigh was convicted of raping Patrick’s sister, Rhonda Sigh, in California, while they were married. Sigh pleaded guilty to a state charge of spousal rape and served four months in a California prison and received five years of probation, according to news reports. The couple reconciled and moved to Massachusetts.
The rape conviction was not widely known in Massachusetts until it came up in the closing days of Patrick’s 2006 campaign for governor, when he won the first of two terms. Patrick said at the time that release of the information was an invasion of privacy and that even his sister’s children were unaware of the conviction. He blamed the Republican Party for pushing the story about his brother-in-law and sister, which he said “nearly destroyed their lives.”
A spokesman for the Massachusetts Republican Party declined to comment.
The following year, a hearing officer of the Sex Offenders Registry Board determined that Sigh did not have to put his name on the registry.
Other officials at the board sought to overturn the hearing officer’s decision, but they were unsuccessful. That prompted the hearing officer, Attilio Paglia, to file a whistleblower suit against the board, alleging that officials there had improperly tried to overturn his decision. The office of the Massachusetts attorney general in July 2014 settled Paglia’s suit, paying him $60,000.
Paglia, now the chief of staff to the Massachusetts Senate Republican leader, did not respond to a request for comment. His lawyer, John Swomley, also did not respond to a request for comment.
The settlement in the Paglia case prompted Patrick to voice his long-standing frustration with board officials. In September 2014, Patrick pushed out two of the officials who had sought to put his brother-in-law on the registry seven years earlier, including board chairman Saundra Edwards, who was appointed by Patrick. Edwards did not respond to a request for comment, and her lawyer, Thomas Flannagan, declined to comment.
Edwards said in a lawsuit that she was initially told in 2014 that Patrick wanted her resignation, and she provided it only after being assured she had done nothing wrong.
But shortly after she resigned, Patrick said that he acted against Edwards because of what he called her “inappropriate, at least, maybe unlawful pressuring” to “change the outcome of a case. The hearing officer ultimately did not do that. It turns out that the case is the case that arose out of my brother-in-law’s experience.”
Edwards then sued Patrick and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, alleging she was defamed and wrongfully fired in what her suit said was a “retaliatory” action. She filed a second defamation claim, saying Patrick had “falsely and maliciously misinformed the press that Edwards had inappropriately interfered with the independence of a quasi-judicial official.”
In her suit, Edwards said that Bernard Sigh had sought to avoid registering on grounds that “spousal rape is not rape” in Massachusetts. The suit said that the hearing officer in the Massachusetts case determined that spousal rape in California is not equivalent “to the Massachusetts crime of rape” and was instead similar to simple indecent assault and battery.
Edwards disagreed. She and other officials at the registry sought to overturn the decision and have Sigh placed on the registry, but the effort was unsuccessful.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 2017 dismissed Edwards’ case against Patrick. The court said that while Patrick might have harbored ill will toward Edwards for “nearly destroy[ing] the lives of some members of his family,” that does not constitute actual malice. Edwards’ complaint against the state is pending.
Patrick, in his statement to The Post, said that Edwards’ “interference” had “threatened the integrity of the work of the agency and resulted in the Commonwealth having to pay a settlement to a hearing officer who was retaliated against. That demanded accountability.”
As Sigh and his wife prepared to end their marriage in 2017, The Boston Globe reported, they agreed to share their apartment, with each occupying it individually for certain periods of time. On Dec. 10, 2017, Sigh was hiding in a closet when his wife was in the home, and he grabbed her and raped her, according to the prosecution. Sigh’s attorney told the court that the sex was consensual.
Sigh was convicted in June of raping his estranged wife and violating a restraining order that prohibited contact with her. He was sentenced to serve up to eight years in prison. Prosecutors had sought up to 15 years.
Sigh’s wife, Rhonda, told the court that she wanted a longer sentence. “I am terrified at the thought of him being released,” she said, according to the Boston Herald. “I would have to leave everything … I would always be looking over my shoulder.” Rhonda Sigh did not return a call seeking comment.
Bernard Sigh told the court that he was “selfish and thoughtless” and asked forgiveness, the Herald reported. Sigh’s public defender, Ethan Yankowitz, declined to comment. Sigh is serving his sentence in a Massachusetts prison. The couple’s divorce was finalized earlier this year.
Patrick, in initially deciding a year ago that he would not seek the presidency, said “knowing that the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane [his wife] and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey, was more than I could ask.” He did not cite a specific reason.
A Patrick aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation, said the case involving his brother-in-law was not the reason that Patrick forewent an initial campaign announcement, but said Patrick had told aides to prepare to face questions about it and other family matters.