UPDATE: Just spoke to Mark Tenia of WRIC-8 News about this story - look for me on the Friday evening newscasts.
A lovely Christmas present to cap off a crazy year of Virginia politics is taking shape in the VA 74th district. Democratic Delegate Joe Morrissey is resigning his seat, running for re-election, and spending his days at the GA and nights in jail, unless he's not. Wait, what? Here's the rundown:
- Morrissey was indicted back in June for having an improper relationship with a minor, his 17-year-old receptionist. The receptionist, who is defending Morrissey, claims to have lied about her age to get the job and that there was no sexual relationship. Whatever went on, her mother seems to have been on board (it was the father who notified authorities). Morrissey and the woman make the usual claim about cell phone evidence: they were hacked. And oh yes: she's pregnant.
- Last week Morrissey entered what's called an "Alford plea" (named after a 1963 NC murder case), where he does not admit guilt but acknowledges that there's enough evidence to convict him. His sentence: 6 months in work-release jail, meaning he sleeps at jail at night but is free during the day. (The sentence is likely to be reduced to 3 months, as is typical with misdemeanor charges.)
- In a brilliant move, Morrissey said he would resign - but would then run for re-election in the resulting special election held in January. This puts the decision to keep him in office in the hands of the voters. If he's re-elected, and especially with significant support, it would be harder for the GA to expel him (still a possibility).
- The Democrats have just a few days to pick their nominee for the special election, which will be held January 13. The two main candidates are Lamont Bagby, a Henrico County School Board member, and Kevin Sullivan, a union activist and alpaca farmer (and dad to one of my former students). It's not clear yet how the Dems will pick their candidate; Sullivan could have district support, but Bagby is more of a known quantity, having at least won a local election. But Morrissey could try to pack a caucus with his supporters to try and get the nomination.
- Even if the Dems go with Bagby or Sullivan, Morrissey could run as an independent. He already has thousands of dollars in his campaign war chest, and there's a history of people in the district ignoring Morrissey's less than savory history. (If he can get re-elected after trying to bribe his way out of community service, it's hard to see how a relationship with a 17-year-old will completely kill his chances.)
- The latest wrinkle: last night the Times-Dispatch's Markus Schmidt reported that the Henrico Sheriff had revoked Morrissey's work-release privileges for going to his office without prior approval. (The Sheriff, Michael Wade, is a Republican, so he's not following marching orders from embarrassed Dems; more likely, he's just ticked off by Morrissey's apparent arrogance.) Morrissey will, of course, appeal, but this is going to make it harder to mount a campaign.
The lesson, as it has been in the 74th for years, is don't ever count Joe Morrissey out. Happy holidays!