RICHMOND — A new felony indictment was unsealed Wednesday against Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, bringing a fresh round of scandal to the Capitol — and angst about whether and how to sanction the Virginia lawmaker, who spends his days in the legislature and his nights serving a jail sentence.
Authorities allege that Morrissey, 57, submitted a forged document as evidence and lied under oath in his earlier case, in which he was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law office. Morrissey has denied all charges against him, including the new ones.
Wednesday’s news rippled through a legislature already weary of Morrissey’s long history of legal skirmishes, starting 20 years ago with a courthouse fistfight. It raised anew the possibility of sanctions or expulsion from the House, where his colleagues expressed chagrin at the continuing drama and said they were considering their options.
“This is a truly painful and embarrassing chapter for the oldest continuously operating legislative body in the world,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “The House will evaluate these new indictments as it pertains to disciplinary action.”
“Unfortunately, it seems like every time you turn around, there’s another problem,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville). “You have to afford presumption of innocence, but these are significant allegations. . . . It hasn’t been giving people around here a warm and fuzzy feeling.”
How and whether to sanction Morrissey was a prime topic at the Capitol on Wednesday, but so was the emerging reality that neither party appeared enthusiastic about taking the lead on action that could alienate Morrissey’s constituents in his suburban Richmond district, who elected him to an additional term last week despite the conviction and jail sentence.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Scott A. Surovell (Fairfax) distanced his party from Morrissey, who has previously run as a Democrat but won last week’s special election as an independent, and put the onus on Republicans to reach a conclusion.
“We only have 32 votes, and the speaker and the majority need to make up their mind about what they want to do,” he said. “The caucus is disturbed by these new allegations, but it’s important to remember that he’s no longer a member of our caucus.”
The special prosecutor in the case, William Neely, said the document at the heart of the new indictment describes a child-support agreement between the parents of the young woman, now 18, with whom Morrissey was accused of having a sexual relationship.
Morrissey’s defense team submitted the agreement in an effort to undermine the original allegations against him. His attorneys argued that he was offering legal advice to the girl — not having sex with her.
Neely said the agreement is a fabricated court order. Still under investigation is who forged the document.
“He’s the puppet master,” he said of Morrissey. “That’s what the evidence is going to show.”
The young woman’s mother, Deidre Lashawn Warren, faces three felony charges, including perjury, stemming from her courtroom testimony regarding the document. She now resides in Georgia, and prosecutors want her returned to the Richmond area to answer the charges.
In June, Morrissey 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 for his old seat. The approach won over voters but cost him his seniority.
In a court hearing Wednesday morning, a new judge assigned to the case — retired Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Alfred D. Swersky — denied Neely’s request to revoke Morrissey’s work-release privileges. Neely had argued that Morrissey committed the new felonies while still facing the earlier felony charges.
Morrissey’s next court date is set for early next month.
The new charges stem from a December sentencing, when Morrissey’s defense team took the unusual step of presenting evidence in an attempt to bolster Morrissey’s contention that on the night of Aug. 23, 2013, he was not having improper relations with the woman, but rather giving her legal advice.
According to Morrissey, the woman was upset because she had discovered that her father had failed to hold up his end of a child-support agreement with Warren from about a decade earlier.
Under the purported deal, the father was supposed to put $50 a week into a college fund for the girl. Morrissey’s defense team argued that the child-support agreement and a separate custody agreement were signed by a court-ordered mediator and are part of the Chesterfield County juvenile court record, which is confidential.
Neely, however, said the child-support document was fabricated. Police went to Morrissey’s law office on the eve of the election to look for evidence as to how the fake document was created, Neely said.
One of Morrissey’s attorneys, Anthony Troy, said police went beyond the terms of the search warrant when they seized voter lists in the waning hours of a race.
“For a candidate in a campaign, the most important document to that campaign is the get-out-the-vote list,” Troy said.
Neely said if such documents were seized, it was an “oversight” that did not affect the election’s outcome. Morrissey won the three-way race with about 42 percent of the vote.