Jailed Virginia lawmaker keeps his seat despite conviction in underage sex scandal
Joseph D. Morrissey, a longtime Virginia legislator who ran his latest campaign while serving a jail sentence for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, on Tuesday won his bid for re-election to the state House of Delegates in a special election.
With all precincts reporting in Virginia’s 74th house district, unofficial returns showed Morrissey, a former Democrat turned independent, capturing 42.3 percent of the vote.
The next closest candidate, in the three-person race to represent a district that includes part of the state capital of Richmond and portions of Henrico and Charles City counties, was Democrat Kevin Sullivan with 33.4 percent of the vote. Morrissey did not need to capture more than half the votes to win.
Morrissey’s win capped off one of the most bizarre electoral campaigns in Virginia history.
“It’s really astonishing that a man with more baggage than Amtrak has been elected from his jail cell,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington.
The 57-year-old Morrissey, who was first elected in 2007, was charged in state court last year over his interactions with a former 17-year-old receptionist at his law office. Last month, in a plea bargain, he was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of taking indecent liberties with a minor, local media reported.
He was sentenced to six months in jail and resigned from office as a Democrat to run as an independent in the special election to fill his seat.
While on a work-release program that allowed him to leave jail during the day, Morrissey made campaign phone calls from his law office.
Democrats, chagrined at the prospect of having Morrissey in the legislature, rushed to nominate an opponent, and Republicans also named a challenger.
But Morrissey surprised his critics and outdistanced both Democrat Kevin Sullivan and Republican Matt Walton.
The special election saw light turnout on Tuesday, with only about 6,700 votes cast in a district with 53,000 registered voters, according to records posted online by the Virginia Department of Elections.
Farnsworth said Morrissey’s troubles may not be over.
“The odds are very good that the leaders of the General Assembly will be debating whether to expel him,” he said.
Two-thirds of state delegates would be required to oust Morrissey. State lawmakers will convene on Wednesday.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Clarence Fernandez)