Morrissey in 2010
|Member-elect of the Virginia Senate|
from the 16th district
January 8, 2020
|Member of the Virginia House of Delegates|
from the 74th district
January 13, 2015 – March 25, 2015
January 9, 2008 – December 18, 2014
|Preceded by||Donald McEachin|
|Succeeded by||Lamont Bagby|
Joseph Dee Morrissey
September 23, 1957
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (2014–present)|
Myrna Pride (m. 2016)
|Alma mater||University of Virginia (BA)|
Georgetown University (JD)
Trinity College, Dublin (LLM)
Joseph Dee Morrissey (born September 23, 1957) is an American politician, and former lawyer from Henrico County, Virginia. In 2019, Morrissey was elected to a seat on the Senate of Virginia, representing the 16th district.
He served as Commonwealth's Attorney of Richmond, Virginia 1989-93 and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in November 2007. He served in that capacity until December 18, 2014, when he resigned after admitting to having sex with a minor (and again until March 25, 2015, after winning back his own seat upon release from prison), he represented the 74th district, made up of Charles City County and parts of Henrico and Prince George Counties and the cities of Hopewell and Richmond.
Early life and education
Morrissey, the son of William F. and Jean Morrissey, claims he is a descendant of John "Old Smoke" Morrissey, a 19th-century U.S. Congressman and one-time bare-knuckle boxer. He and his five siblings grew up in Annandale.
Morrissey received a B.A. in economics at the University of Virginia in 1979, and a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1982. He taught government as a high school teacher, and was in private practice as an attorney from 1993-2000.
He was a lecturer of Law at Portobello College in Ireland from 2001–02, and taught in the law school at the Dublin Institute of Technology for two years (2001–03) and in Australia at the University of Adelaide and the University of Western Sydney in 2003 until he was fired for failing to disclose the fact he had been disbarred.
Morrissey taught at Bishop O'Connell High school in 2006 for one semester before he was fired.
Gun on the floor
Morrissey attracted national attention in January 2013, when during a debate on gun control he pulled an unloaded AK-47 from under his desk and flourished it on the floor of the House of Delegates, after a Republican-controlled subcommittee had killed a bill of his that would have tightened gun controls in the commonwealth on weapons such as AK-47s. He announced, "A lot of people don't know that in many locations in the commonwealth, you can take this gun, you can walk in the middle of Main Street loaded and not be in violation of the law."
Disbarment and law license revocation
As an attorney, Morrissey was cited for contempt of court ten times and was jailed or arrested five times. Records from the Virginia State Bar indicate that Morrissey received a public reprimand in March 1992, and had his law license suspended twice: once in December 1993 and then again in December 1999.
On December 21, 2001, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Morrissey was disbarred and on April 25, 2003, his license to practice law was revoked by the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board.
"Frequent episodes of unethical, contumacious, or otherwise inappropriate conduct mar Joseph D. Morrissey's career as prosecutor and private defense attorney," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit noted in September 2002. The court said, "Evidence … demonstrates Morrissey's 15-year history of contempt citations, reprimands, fines, suspensions, and even incarcerations arising from unprofessional conduct mostly involving an uncontrollable temper, inappropriate responses to stress, and dishonesty."
Conviction for delinquency of a minor
In August 2013, Morrissey was found by police to be in his home in Henrico County with a 17-year-old girl, now his wife, who was an employee of his law office. Morrissey, the girl, and her mother, denied any impropriety. But subsequently, a Henrico County court convened a grand jury to investigate a possible improper sexual relationship between Morrissey and the girl. On June 30, 2014, Morrissey was indicted on felony charges of indecent liberties with a minor, possession and distribution of child pornography, and electronic solicitation of a minor, in addition to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, for which conviction he served three months of a 12-month sentence. After being convicted, Morrissey resigned as a delegate at the Virginia House.
According to statements from the prosecutor in court documents, Morrissey had sex with the girl multiple times in his law office in August 2013, and possessed a nude photograph of the girl, which he also sent to a friend. Morrissey allegedly continued the relationship with the girl after she left his law office in August 2013, and the two allegedly shared a hotel room overnight in October 2013.
Morrissey denied the charges, saying the girl came to him for advice about family problems and was being abused by her father, and that the special prosecutor was out to get him because of a personal vendetta. Morrissey said he rejected a plea bargain for a single misdemeanor in December 2013. He vowed to fight the charges in court, declaring that he would be vindicated, and rejected calls to resign his House seat.
Morrissey's case made national headlines in July 2014 when he used an obscenity on live television while reading a text message he claimed was planted on his phone by hackers. He entered into a plea agreement in which he made an Alford plea to one misdemeanor charge and received an active jail sentence. News reports indicated that Morrissey would be eligible to attend sessions of the legislature on work release.
Leading members of the Virginia Democratic Party, including Governor Terry McAuliffe, called for Morrissey to resign his seat. Morrissey resigned his seat on December 18, 2014, but ran in the special election to fill the resulting vacancy. On January 13, 2015, while serving a six-month jail sentence, he won that election to reclaim his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.
William Neely, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Morrissey case, secured new felony indictments January 21, 2015, against Morrissey for perjury and for presenting forged documents during his sentencing hearing.
Second law license revocation
In March 2018, the Virginia State Bar brought new charges of misconduct against Morrissey. A three-judge panel convened on March 26, 2018 to hear three separate allegations of misconduct. First, the Bar contended that Morrissey's criminal conviction and improper contact with his 17-year-old intern violated rules regarding criminal conduct by an attorney, and that Morrissey had destroyed evidence relating to the criminal case against him. On March 28, the panel found that though the Bar had not shown that Morrissey destroyed evidence, they did find that the Bar had successfully demonstrated that Morrissey's relationship with his intern was "a criminal or deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness to practice law."
On March 29, the panel considered charges stemming from Morrissey's representation of former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder and the United States National Slavery Museum in a tax matter. Despite being subpoenaed, Wilder failed to appear, and so the disciplinary panel found insufficient evidence as to these charges. Wilder would later contest this decision, arguing that service of the subpoena had been improper.
Finally, on March 30, the panel found that Morrissey had also violated legal ethics rules when he allowed another member of his firm to appear in court on behalf of one of the firm's clients. That employee had passed the Bar Examination a short time before, but had not yet been sworn in by the Virginia Supreme Court. This made her ineligible to represent clients as an attorney, and as a result, Morrissey was found to have violated rules that require a lawyer to ensure that anyone under his or her supervision also follow ethics rules. The panel also noted that Morrissey had not informed his client that someone else would be present, itself a violation of the Bar's rules.
Based on the violations that it found Morrissey had committed and considering his prior disciplinary and legal difficulties, the panel ordered that Morrissey's law license be revoked effective June 15, 2018.
Morrissey applied to the Virginia Supreme Court on June 13, 2018, for a stay of his revocation as he perfected an appeal to the Richmond Circuit Court ruling. In a three-paragraph ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court denied the stay on June 14, 2018. Morrissey's law license was revoked for the second time on June 15, 2018. Morrissey's appeal of the revocation was denied by the Virginia Supreme Court on July 18, 2019.
Bids for higher office
In March 2015, Morrissey was disqualified from the House of Delegates after filing to run for a state Senate seat outside of his district. He dropped out of that race in September, allowing incumbent Rosalyn Dance (D) to win reelection without active opposition. In 2016, he began a campaign for mayor of Richmond, which he did not win, but secured 21% of the vote. In 2019, he again ran for Dance's seat in the Virginia Senate, and this time he defeated her in the primary, earning 57% of the vote.
Morrissey initially denied paternity of his son, who was born in March 2015, to his then law office intern, Myrna Pride, who was 17 at the time of the internship. On May 20, 2015, he confirmed paternity of the boy.
Although Morrissey admitted having sexual relationships with Pride, then 17 years old, in a plea agreement following a conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, both continue to maintain that no sexual activity occurred before she was of legal age.
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The son of a cardiologist, Morrissey and five siblings grew up in Annandale, where he attended parochial schools before enrolling at the University of Virginia.
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