Joe Morrissey addresses reporters on Dec. 18. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
Voters in Virginia’s 74th District will decide the fate of embattled Del. Joe Morrissey in a special election held the day before the General Assembly session is scheduled to begin.
At a news conference held in his legislative office on the fourth floor of the General Assembly building, Morrissey told reporters that he submitted a letter of resignation to House Speaker William Howell.
Morrissey’s resignation, however, is effective Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, and will correspond with a special election held in the 74th District for his seat. He says he will run to fill the seat.
“It is up to the voters, not political pundits and not partisan caucuses, [to] decide who serves in office,” Morrissey says.
A special grand jury indicted the 57-year-old defense lawyer in June on four felony charges and a misdemeanor alleging that he had sex with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law firm and distributed nude images of her using his cell phone. If convicted, he faced up to 41 years in prison.
Morrissey, whose house district covers parts of Richmond, Henrico County, Charles City County and Hopewell, is serving a six-month jail sentence for a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Last week, Morrissey submitted an Alford plea to the charge, which stipulates that a defendant maintains his innocence, but acknowledges there is enough evidence against him to secure a conviction.
Morrissey is serving his time in Henrico County’s Regional Jail East, and is allowed 12 hours of work release a day. He is able to continue working as a lawyer and legislator by day, returning to the jail at night to sleep.
A bipartisan array of state politicians called for Morrissey to resign in the last week, including the governor, the attorney general and his own party caucus.
Howell released a statement after the news conference saying, “This is a despicable, arrogant political stunt that should disgust each and every citizen of Virginia. The people of the 74th District deserve better than this and the obligation now rests with them to retire Mr. Morrissey permanently.”
Morrissey says he asked Paul Goldman and his lawyer, Tony Troy, to look into the constitutionality of being forced to resign from the House of Delegates for a misdemeanor conviction. He says there is no case or constitutional precedent to make him step down.
The 2015 General Assembly session is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Jan. 14, the day after the special election.