RICHMOND — Joseph D. Morrissey was reelected Tuesday to the House of Delegates, opening another chapter in a made-for-TV-movie-style drama likely to captivate the General Assembly session starting Wednesday.
Running as an independent, Morrissey defeated Democrat Kevin Sullivan and Republican Matt Walton. The heavily Democratic district mostly spans the Richmond suburb of Henrico County.
With all precincts reporting, Morrissey won 42 percent of the vote, Sullivan 33 percent and Walton 24 percent, according to unofficial results.
Sullivan quickly conceded after the results posted online: “I’m very proud of the campaign we put together in such a short time frame. We met tons of voters who are dissatisfied in their representation and ready for effective leadership in the State House. I look forward to continuing my work on improving the lives of working class families.”
Voters were apparently unmoved by Morrissey’s plea last month on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which stemmed from his relationship with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law office. The 57-year-old lawmaker maintained his innocence while entering a guilty plea to avoid a possible conviction on felony charges.
He also resigned from office, but he then immediately vowed to run for the seat in the special election to replace him.
Morrissey’s hurdles are far from over.
Republican and Democratic leaders quickly indicated they are considering all options, including beginning the process to expel or censure him as early as Wednesday when the legislature convenes in Richmond for a six-week session.
House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said he and Democratic leaders will look to the state Constitution and House rules to guide their next steps.
In a statement, Howell said: “Mr. Morrissey’s election tonight does not change the fact that his actions fall grievously short of the standards of a public servant in the House of Delegates. As Speaker, I have an obligation to faithfully and impartially discharge my duties as presiding officer and a responsibility to protect the honor and integrity of the House of Delegates as an institution. There are a number of options available to the body to address questions of conduct regarding its members.”
Echoing Howell, House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) distanced themselves from Morrissey and denounced his actions.
“Joe Morrissey chose to run as an Independent; he is not a member of the Democratic Party, nor is he a member of the House Democratic Caucus. His conviction and actions over the past two months were reprehensible, and we will be exploring every avenue in regard to his status as a member of the House of Delegates,” they said in a statement.
Morrissey is scheduled to be sworn in Wednesday. His law partner, Paul Goldman, said he notified Morrissey of his win in a phone call. “This is a victory for the people,” Goldman said. “The people have spoken. This is our system. Joe respected the voters. He treated them with respect.”
If lawmakers move to oust Morrissey, a new spectacle could unfold involving public hearings rehashing the sordid details that landed Morrissey behind bars.
Any action against Morrissey also would put his House colleagues — many of whom strenuously called for him to resign altogether — in the uncomfortable position of thwarting the will of the electorate to keep him out of Virginia's decorum-bound General Assembly.
Like all legislation, the process to expel or censure a delegate begins with the filing of a resolution, which would be referred to one of several committees or a select committee created for this purpose. The committee would hold hearings before sending its recommendation to the full body. Two-thirds of delegates are needed to expel; a simple majority is required to censure.
If Morrissey is expelled, yet another special election could be called — and he could run again if he chooses. In the case of a censure, lawmakers could strip Morrissey’s committee assignments, keep him from serving on boards and commissions or suspend his floor privileges.
By resigning, even though he was reelected Tuesday, Morrissey has already lost his seniority as well as his office space and plum seat on the House floor.
After entering his guilty plea last month, Morrissey was sentenced to six months in jail. He was accepted into the work-release program, allowing him to leave jail for up to 12 hours a day for campaign activity or to work at his law practice.
The work-release program also reduces Morrissey’s sentence to 90 days.
Henrico County Sheriff Michael Wade said Morrissey has typically left the jail at 7:30 a.m. and returned at 7:30 p.m., but for election day, he requested a slightly later schedule, starting at 8 a.m. — meaning results weren’t even final when he was required to report back to jail for the night.
Wade said Morrissey returned to jail — while doing a television interview on the way in — six or seven minutes late. “I’m taking a half an hour of his time away from him tomorrow morning,” Wade said.
Morrissey has been allowed to drive his car, which was outfitted with a GPS device to track his movements. The procedure will continue during the session but with accommodations for the General Assembly’s unpredictable schedule, which often finds lawmakers deliberating late into the night.
“His job is different, but we’ve had plumbers and electricians and people like that that are jailed who have to tell me where they’re going everyday. It’s just that he’s a politician,” Wade said.
Morrissey has a cell to himself at Henrico County’s Regional Jail East in New Kent County, which houses work-release inmates. A common day room is equipped with a television, Wade said.
Prosecutors said that in addition to the affair, Morrissey also shared a naked photograph of the young woman while she was underage.
Morrissey and the woman have both denied the charges, claiming that her jealous ex-girlfriend hacked into their phones and sent a series of salacious text messages.
The scandal grew in the final frenzied days of the campaign.
Henrico County police signaled that another investigation was underway Monday when they seized computers from Morrissey’s law office. In a search warrant filed in Circuit Court, police allege that a child support agreement that Morrissey had entered as evidence in his criminal case was forged.
That agreement involves the woman and her father, not the teenager’s own child. According to the papers, her father agreed to pay her $50 a week. He is now saying he never signed that agreement, and police say it is a “forged and fraudulent document.”
The development suggests that Morrissey’s legal troubles may continue.
The woman, now 18 and pregnant, in a radio interview Monday denied having a sexual relationship with Morrissey. She declined to identify the father of her child, which prosecutors have said is “perhaps” Morrissey’s.
“The truth will come out,” she said, “and I’m looking forward to that day when that does happen.”
Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.