RICHMOND — Some snickered and wondered if Del. Joseph D. Morrissey might have had a conflict of interest Wednesday when he voted against a bill to keep “obscene materials” out of the hands of prison inmates.
Morrissey (I-Henrico) has been spending his nights in jail since before the start of the current legislative session, on a misdemeanor charge related to his relationship with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law office.
The lawmaker, who won reelection literally from his jail cell and has since been charged with four felonies on top of the earlier charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, has caused much hand-wringing and consternation in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol.
But Wednesday it was Morrissey who said he was taking the high road.
The disgraced lawmaker said he could have avoided the “childish comments” and “jeers and sneers” whispered among lawmakers and observers in the chamber had he voted with the majority in favor of barring the obscene materials.
However, Morrissey, who said he taught constitutional law in Ireland and Australia while disbarred in Virginia, said the bill wouldn’t pass legal muster on two grounds.
“The reason I voted ‘no’ is because I don’t believe the bill if challenged in court would survive a constitutional challenge. The bill does not describe what obscene materials is,” he said.
Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta), the prime sponsor of the bill, which passed 86 to 13, said the bill echoes a ban on pornography in federal prisons and said the community standards rules apply in both cases.
Landes said the local warden at Augusta Correctional Center has been trying to rectify the problem for years, but printed materials — although not magazines — come in through the mail.
Asked whether he thought Morrissey should have abstained, Landes declined to comment.
Morrissey has a long history of legal skirmishes, starting 20 years ago with a courthouse fistfight.
In June, he was charged with multiple felonies for allegedly having sex with the young woman and sharing nude photos of her. Morrissey and the woman, now pregnant with a child prosecutors say is “perhaps” his, have denied any wrongdoing and blamed the woman’s ex-girlfriend for hacking their phones to frame them.
Morrissey agreed to a plea deal in which he admitted no guilt but avoided conviction on the felony charges. He agreed to serve a six-month jail term that was reduced to a 90-day work-release sentence. He resigned from the House but immediately declared himself a candidate in the Jan. 13 special election for his old seat. The approach won over voters but cost him his seniority.
A second indictment unsealed in January alleges that Morrissey, 57, submitted a forged document as evidence and lied under oath in the earlier case.
His next court date is Monday.