From Richmond’s New Kingdom Christian Ministries on Sunday morning, Virginia state Del. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Henrico) announced that he will soon decide whether or not to resign in the wake of a conviction that would see him serving in the legislature during the day and reporting to jail at night.
Morrissey, 56, entered an Alford plea Friday to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in a case where prosecutors accused him of both having sex with and sharing a naked photograph of a 17-year-old girl. Alford pleas allow the accused to maintain innocence but acknowledge that there is enough evidence for a conviction.
He was sentenced to 12 months in jail with six suspended. However, his work-release arrangement would allow him to not only continue practicing law as a private attorney, but writing it in the General Assembly during the 2015 legislative session.
Democrats and Republicans have agreed that such an arrangement would be intolerable in a capitol that, while racked by recent scandals, is still revered as Thomas Jefferson’s political home.
“In light of his conviction on these disturbing charges, the Governor believes Del. Morrissey should resign immediately,” Brian Coy, a spokesman for Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), said Saturday. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) put out a separate call for Morrissey’s resignation. And House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said before Morrissey’s announcement that his caucus was “actively exploring all available options, including removal.”
The chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, Pat Mullins, likewise called Morrissey “a disgrace not only to himself, but to the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Morrissey maintains his innocence. But had he gone to trial and lost, he could have been convicted of a felony that carries a mandatory sentence of at least five years.
He was charged with having sex last August with a college student and part-time receptionist at his law firm, as well as sharing an explicit photograph of her with a friend. Morrissey dismissed the charges as “baseless,” emphasizing that the girl in question told police the same. Both say their cellphones were hacked with incriminating text messages.
Morrissey has been to jail before, though not for so long. In his career as a prosecutor and then a defense attorney, his law license was suspended and eventually revoked for a decade. He spent five days in jail in 1991 when, during a heroin trial, he punched a defense attorney in the face.
Far from retreating, Morrissey embraced his pugilistic reputation. When he opened a private practice he decorated the waiting room with boxing gloves. In his four terms in the House of Delegates, he has cultivated a reputation for feisty floor speeches and verbal sparring matches. Before his prosecution and conviction, Morrissey had hoped to run for the seat that is opening with the retirement of state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond).
Lamont Bagby, a member of the Henrico County School Board, has already announced his plans to seek Morrissey’s seat in the House.
Another political controversy in the state was settled Friday, as prosecutors announced that they would not pursue criminal charges in the resignation of a state senator who quit amid job talks. A day earlier, the Post reported that a federal agency would recommend a prison sentence of at least 10 years for former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R).
It takes a two-thirds vote to expel a member from a chamber of the Virginia legislature, according to the state constitution. Beyond that, the process is murky. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, one member of the state Senate has been expelled in Virginia’s history. A Republican delegate in 1996 pleaded guilty to indecent exposure. He stayed in the legislature but retired the next year. State Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2001; he apologized on the floor of the chamber. Neither, however, was given active jail time — much less jail time that would coincide with the General Assembly’s two-month annual session.