Jailed Virginia lawmaker who won seat back is sworn in

Alan Suderman
Associated Press

Richmond, Va. – — Voters who long overlooked Virginia lawmaker Joseph D. Morrissey’s history of fistfights, contempt of court citations and disbarment have now given him a pass for a sex scandal that landed him in jail, choosing him over two less colorful candidates in a House of Delegates special election.

Morrissey was sworn in Wednesday in front of a group of reporters at his new legislative office on Capitol Square. In remarks to reporters, Morrissey struck a defiant tone as House leaders researched the procedure for expelling the former Democrat, who had fellow lawmakers fuming when he decided to run again as an independent.

The 57-year-old resigned his seat after he was sentenced to six months in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Prosecutors accused him of having sex with a 17-year-old employee. Morrissey and the teenager, now 18 and pregnant, denied it.

“I’m confident in Joe Morrissey and I’m confident things will work out exactly the way they are supposed to,” Morrissey said after the mid-day House floor session. Earlier, Morrissey told reporters that voters “spoke very clearly” and would likely support him again should he be kicked out of the House.

“If you look at history, people that have been in my situation, if they run again, their margin increases more,” said Morrissey, who compared himself to civil rights icons Julian Bond and Adam Clayton Powell.

Morrissey will tend to legislative duties while on work release. He will wear an electronic monitoring device during the day and return to jail at night. He said he didn’t find out he had won Tuesday’s election until after he had returned to jail.

Wednesday marked the first day of the 2015 legislative session, and Morrissey was late to arrive because his car was frozen at the parking lot of the Henrico County jail. Morrissey said he had to get a ride to the Capitol with a Washington Post reporter waiting to interview him.

The House’s first floor session went off without any fireworks, as leaders are still trying to decide what to do with Morrissey. They sat the lawmaker, who dropped his Democratic Party affiliation and ran as an independent in the special election, in a new seat on the House floor in a far corner.

“We’re still considering all our options,” said House Democratic Minority Leader David J. Toscano, when asked what his caucus planned to do with Morrissey.

It would take a two-thirds vote of the 100-member House to expel a member — something that hasn’t happened since 1876, according to House Clerk G. Paul Nardo.

Morrissey could also be censured by his colleagues and blocked from having any committee duties.

Last month, Morrissey pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor after prosecutors accused him of having sex with a 17-year-old girl, whose nude photo was found on his cellphone and allegedly shared with a friend.

The young woman, who denies they had sex, is now 18 and pregnant but has not identified the father.

Morrissey, a bachelor who has fathered three children out of wedlock with three different women, has denied wrongdoing but entered the misdemeanor plea to avoid felony charges punishable by years in prison and automatic loss of his legislative position.

Morrissey’s latest legal troubles began when Coleman Pride told authorities the lawmaker was preying on his daughter when she worked at his law office in 2013 — allegations he repeated in campaign ads last week for Sullivan.

But perhaps Morrissey’s staunchest defender is Myrna Pride, who went public this month with her side of the story.