Virginia lawmaker wins election amid sex scandal
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A Virginia lawmaker who resigned his seat following a sex scandal involving a teenager has won it back in a special election.
Joe Morrissey defeated two opponents in the Richmond-area House of Delegates race Tuesday - a feat he accomplished while serving six months in jail on a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The Democrat resigned under pressure after his December conviction, then angered legislators from both parties by running as an independent for the seat. Legislative leaders have been researching the process for expelling a member. The General Assembly convenes Wednesday.
The 57-year-old Morrissey denies allegations that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl who worked as a receptionist in his law office. He entered a plea deal to avoid a felony trial.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
The writers of TV's "Scandal" would be hard-pressed to invent a crisis more difficult to manage than the case of "Fighting Joe," a jailed Virginia lawmaker running in Tuesday's special election to fill the same seat he's supposed to be resigning from.
Through four elections, most voters have overlooked or even embraced Joseph D. Morrissey's flamboyant history of fistfights, contempt of court citations and disbarment. The 57-year-old bachelor, who fathered three children out of wedlock with three different women, repeatedly won at least 70 percent of the vote as a Democrat.
But would voters be OK with his conviction in a sex scandal involving his 17-year-old secretary, whose nude photo was found on his cellphone and allegedly shared with a friend? Would they mind that the young woman - who denies they had sex - is now pregnant?
Virginians watched in suspense as voters cast ballots in a three-way race for the seat Morrissey was supposed to be vacating. Polls closed at 7 p.m.
Morrissey, who claimed his phone was hacked and denies any wrongdoing, has made a career of never backing down. He hung boxing gloves in his office and promised "Joe will fight for you" in campaign ads on city buses. At one point, he waved an assault rifle inside the House chamber while arguing for gun control.
He resigned his seat - effective Tuesday, the day of this special election - after he was convicted last month of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His agreement to serve six months in jail for the misdemeanor avoided a felony trial that could have barred him from office and put him in prison for years.
But Morrissey wouldn't give up - he promptly quit his party to run as an independent for his Richmond-area House of Delegates seat, sleeping in jail and wearing an electronic monitoring device as he campaigned each day against Democrat Kevin Sullivan and Republican Matt Walton.
Legislators from both parties denounced him as unfit to serve and began studying how to expel him if he wins.
House Clerk G. Paul Nardo said it takes two-thirds of the 100-member House to expel a member, which hasn't happened since 1876. The Virginia Constitution says a legislator can be kicked out for disorderly behavior, but does not define it.
"Mr. Morrissey's decision to run in this election is deceitful, selfish and disrespectful to this institution and the people he supposedly desires to serve," said House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican.
House Democratic Minority Leader David J. Toscano called it "both outrageous and sad."
But Morrissey says the people, not politicians, should decide who represents them - and vowed a voting rights battle if they try to remove him.
His latest troubles began when Coleman Pride told authorities that the lawmaker was preying on his daughter when she worked at his law office in 2013 - allegations he repeated in campaign ads last week for Morrissey's Democratic opponent.
But Morrissey's staunchest defender is Myrna Pride, now 18, who went public this month with her side of the story.
The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sex crimes, but Myrna Pride's name has become well known in the district since she was named in Morrissey's criminal case. She denies they had sex - while declining to identify the father of her unborn baby - and she publicly defended Morrissey on Monday in a radio interview.
Richmond radio host Jack Gravely was interviewing Coleman Pride on WLEE about his daughter's relationship with Morrissey when the lawmaker called in to defend himself. Myrna Pride then showed up in person, accusing her father and others of manufacturing the entire scandal to get back at Morrissey for his help in a dispute over her father's child support.
It was Morrissey's role in the family's dispute that reportedly prompted police to serve a search warrant of his office Monday afternoon, with only hours to go before the voting started. Morrissey called that a political dirty trick.
"The only person that has shown any respect or kindness, or been there for me, is Mr. Morrissey," Myrna Pride told a WTVR reporter on Monday. "Right now it's a friendship. I don't speak with him often. I call here and there to check on him. I want to see how his spirits are going."
Morrissey supported her in turn. "I think Myrna needs to stay away from the media, but I think she has handled herself in an exemplary fashion," he told the radio host. "She is a very smart young lady. She is kind, she is considerate. She will go on to do very well."
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