(AP) A flamboyant Virginia legislator with a long history of legal troubles entered a plea on Friday that will allow him to avoid a potentially lengthy prison term and loss of his legislative position in connection with accusations that he had an improper sexual relationship with a teenager.
Del. Joseph D. Morrissey entered the Alford plea in Henrico County Circuit Court on a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In an Alford plea, a defendant acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction but doesn’t admit guilt. Morrissey had been scheduled to go on trial Monday on four felony charges, including possession and distribution of child pornography.
Morrissey was sentenced to 12 months in jail with six suspended but will ultimately serve three months, said his attorney Anthony Troy. Morrissey also will be in a work-release program that will allow him to continue his work as a legislator and a lawyer, Troy said. According to the Henrico County Jail Inmate Information website, Morrissey was booked about 2:30 p.m. Friday.
According to prosecutors, Morrissey and a 17-year-old girl who worked for him as a receptionist had sex multiple times at his law office in August 2013 and texted their friends about it. Morrissey, 57, also procured a nude photo of the girl “to help him fantasize about their next encounter” and sent the picture to a friend, according to special prosecutor William Neely.
Morrissey has vehemently denied the allegations and claimed his cellphone was hacked.
A Henrico County Circuit Court special grand jury was convened after police, called by a man to check on the welfare of his teenage daughter, found the girl with Morrissey at the legislator’s home.
Troy said at the time that the girl had gone to her boss’s home for advice about family problems, and there was nothing inappropriate about the relationship. The girl also denied any impropriety.
During a tumultuous career as a defense lawyer and prosecutor, Morrissey has been cited for contempt of court 10 times and forcibly detained or jailed five times .
He’s also one of Virginia’s most outspoken legislators, known for passionate and sometimes theatrical floor speeches. Last year, the Democrat was chided by some colleagues and drew national attention for brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle on the House floor while advocating stronger gun control.
His biography is replete with other colorful anecdotes — most notably a 1991 courthouse fistfight with a defense attorney that earned Morrissey, then Richmond’s chief prosecutor, a five-day jail sentence.
After losing his re-election bid in 1993 under the cloud of bribery and perjury charges on which he was later acquitted, Morrissey went into private practice. He capitalized on the widely reported courthouse brawl by calling himself a “fighter” for his clients on ads plastered on city buses and decorating his office with boxing gloves.
Fisticuffs with a building contractor led to a misdemeanor assault and battery conviction and suspension of Morrissey’s law license in 2000. Three years later, the state bar revoked his license for failing to tell clients about the suspension. Unable to practice law, he taught in Ireland and then Australia before returning to Virginia in 2006 and winning four House elections in a row.
In December 2011, the Virginia Supreme Court reinstated Morrissey’s law license, with certain restrictions, despite a recommendation from a state bar disciplinary panel that the court deny his reinstatement.
— MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, LARRY O’DELL, Associated Press. AP writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.