Jailed Virginia lawmaker charged with forgery, perjury

By LARRY O'DELL and ALAN SUDERMAN
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia lawmaker who was just re-elected despite being jailed for a sex scandal with a teenager has been indicted on four new felony charges.

The forgery and perjury indictment of Del. Joseph D. Morrissey was returned the day before that election and unsealed Wednesday in Henrico County Circuit Court.

The lawmaker now stands accused of forging a document he vouched for in court, and persuading the girl's mother to swear to its authenticity as well. That woman, Deidre Warren, also was indicted on perjury and forgery charges. Morrissey faces up to 10 years on each count if convicted, special prosecutor William J. Neely said.

Morrissey, an attorney known as "Fighting Joe" since his 1993 courthouse fistfight with another lawyer, said the charges are false and vowed to beat them.

"This is a very harmful and mean-spirited blow, but I'll do what I've always done. I'll prevail," Morrissey told reporters after arriving at the Capitol for the legislative session soon after the indictments were unsealed.

Morrissey is spending nights in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor but is allowed out each day on work release, earning a day of "good time" credit reducing his six-month sentence for each day he serves in the legislature.

He accepted the misdemeanor conviction to avoid trial on charges of taking "indecent liberties" with a 17-year-old, child pornography and soliciting a minor — felonies that could have put him in prison for decades and caused the automatic loss of his legislative position.

After his conviction, the four-term Democrat announced his resignation under pressure from his colleagues and then angered them by running as an independent in the special election called to choose his successor. He won that election last week, defeating a Republican and a Democrat just before the start of the General Assembly session.

Technically the most junior member of the House because of his resignation and re-election, Morrissey has been moved to a desk in a far corner of the chamber. His colleagues largely ignore him. House Speaker William J. Howell stripped Morrissey of his committee assignments, and legislative leaders from both parties are debating whether to censure or expel him.

"This is a truly painful and embarrassing chapter for the oldest continuously operating legislative body in the world," Howell said after learning of the new charges. "The House will evaluate these new indictments as it pertains to disciplinary action."

Morrissey, 57, has denied having sex with Myrna Pride, who worked as a receptionist in his law office at the time.

The young woman's sisters and father said they got suspicious after finding a nude photo and an exchange of sexually explicit text messages on her phone. They tracked Morrissey and Pride from a restaurant one night in August 2013, and then called police, who found the teenager inside his home at midnight.

Pride — now 18 and pregnant — also has denied having sex with Morrissey, a bachelor who has fathered three children with three different women. But she said in a broadcast interview last week that she still cares and worries about him as a friend.

The Associated Press usually does not disclose the names of alleged sex crime victims, but Pride has gone public with her side of the story.

Morrissey claimed that Pride came to his home that night in August 2013 not to have sex, but to get his legal help recovering child support from her father, Coleman Pride.

Neely said Morrissey presented a document in court last month to support this version. It appears to be a court order showing that Coleman Pride had agreed to pay $50 a month into a college fund for his daughter. But Neely said there is no court record of any child support order, and that the document "appears to be a fabrication."

Police searched Morrissey's law office the day before the election for evidence related to the document, the same day the indictments were filed under seal. Morrissey decried the search, which was extensively covered by local media, as political skullduggery.

But that spectacle and the conviction were not enough to derail his candidacy in a district where he has repeatedly captured at least 70 percent of the vote. Morrissey's supporters, and the delegate himself, attribute his popularity to his attention to constituent service in black-majority district where voters feel their voices are not heard by the political establishment at the Capitol.

"We compare him to Marion Barry," the charismatic former Washington mayor who was elected to a fourth term after serving prison time for a drug offense, Morrissey supporter Preston Brown said in an interview before the latest charges were divulged. "He had issues but was always there and could be counted on."

Morrissey's issues began with the courthouse fistfight, which became known as the "brawl in the hall," as well as fisticuffs with a contractor, several contempt of court citations, and the loss and reinstatement of his license to practice law. He embraced the colorful image, decorating his law office with boxing gloves and advertising as a lawyer who would fight for his clients.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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