Jailed Virginia lawmaker seeks to regain seat

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- An election to fill the seat of a lawmaker who resigned after being accused of having sex with his teenage secretary is special in more ways than one: First, the legislator who quit is running to get the seat back. And then there is the likelihood that if he succeeds, his colleagues in the House will try to kick him back out again.

Disgraced Virginia lawmaker Joe Morrissey has said that voters should have a chance to decide in Tuesday's special election whether he deserves to continue holding office after he was accused of - but vehemently denied - having sex multiple times at his law office with a 17-year-old girl he hired as a receptionist.

Prosecutors alleged that the 57-year-old Morrissey and the girl both texted their friends about the encounter, and that Morrissey also procured a nude photo of the teen and sent it to a friend. The Henrico County Democrat claimed his cellphone was hacked. But he resigned his seat, effective Tuesday, and entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction.

In the latest twist, news media outlets reported that Henrico County police executed a search warrant at Morrissey's law office Monday afternoon. It was not clear what they were seeking, and neither police nor the special prosecutor in Morrissey's case immediately responded to telephone messages from The Associated Press.

Morrissey's defense attorney, Anthony F. Troy, said he had no firsthand knowledge about what was going on but added that the election-eve timing "seems a little too opportunistic to me."

If he is elected again, Morrissey will be performing his legislative duties while on work release from a six-month jail sentence imposed last month. The plea allowed him to avoid trial on four felony charges that, if he were convicted, could have landed him in prison for years and automatically disqualified from the House.

Morrissey has angered legislators from both parties by deciding to run for the seat as an independent. House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican, called Morrissey's move "a despicable, arrogant political stunt." House Democratic Minority Leader David J. Toscano called it "both outrageous and sad."

It takes a two-thirds vote of the House to expel a member - an extraordinary measure last employed in 1876.

Morrissey's defiance is in keeping with the "fighting Joe" image the lawyer cultivated in a career marked by fistfights, contempt of court citations and the loss and reinstatement of his law license. Voters of Virginia's 74th House District -consisting of Charles City County and parts of Henrico County and Richmond - seemed to embrace the persona, electing Morrissey four times with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Morrissey's opponents in Tuesday's election are Democrat Kevin Sullivan and Republican Matt Walton. Sullivan last week aired a radio ad featuring the father of the teenage girl, who is now 18, saying Morrissey does not belong in public office and warning listeners that "next time it could be your daughter or even your granddaughter." Walton, meanwhile, has declined to address Morrissey's situation.

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