Attorneys call Joe Morrissey’s sex charges a ‘vendetta’

Posted at 1:42 AM, Jul 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-01 08:45:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hours after news of his indictment on sex charges involving a teenage girl broke, Delegate Joe Morrissey turned himself in to deputies at the Henrico County Jail just before six Monday evening.

He was booked and released on personal recognizance and will most likely face a circuit court judge Tuesday morning.

Attorneys for Morrissey held a press conference on Monday evening, publicly defending the state lawmaker by calling the felony counts against him “baseless” and “without any factual support.”

A special grand jury indicted Morrissey (D-Henrico) Monday morning on five charges including supervisory indecent liberties with a minor, electronic solicitation of a minor, possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

"The charges essentially involve having sex with her at his law office while she was an employee, electronically soliciting  photos from her, possession of child porn, and distribution, for sharing it with a friend,” said Special Prosecutor William Neely.

Neely specifies in the indictment that Morrissey sent text messages to the underage girl confirming their sexual liaison the night before and soliciting a nude photograph  of her to help him fantasize about their next encounter.

Prosecutors said the teen responded with a naked photo of herself, which prosecutors said Morrissey then sent to a friend.

Investigators say it appears the girl lied about her age to land the job.  They say she claimed she was 22.  But Neely said they have further evidence that the law office and staff knew her true age prior to the August 20th alleged sexual encounter.

“This is the first time in the history of the commonwealth that we are aware of a person being indicted for an offense that the alleged victim and her family plainly stated did not occur,” said attorney Amy Austin.

Austin claims the allegations stem from a personal and ongoing vendetta against Del. Morrissey which goes back 20 years.  She says special prosecutor William Neely wrote a letter to the Virginia State Bar in 2011 opposing Del. Morrissey’s readmission to the practice of law after he lost his license in 2003.

Neely wrote “Morrissey’s notoriously unethical practices as the former CA in Richmond were a disgrace to all Virginia prosecutors.  Morrissey’s later and even more outrageously deceitful conduct as a defense attorney is ever better documented,” Neely claimed.

Neely defended himself on Monday saying the judge who appointed him to the case was well aware of the letter and its content.

“I did not seek that appointment and the judge ruled back in February that letter does not constitute a vendetta or any misconduct on my part,” Neely said.

CBS 6 spoke with attorney David Baugh, who also petitioned against Morrissey getting his law license back in 2011.  Baugh was punched in the face by Morrissey outside a Richmond courtroom in 1991 while the two served as opposing counsel during a trial.

Despite their once contentious relationship, Baugh defended Morrissey on Monday and questioned the merit of the new charges.

Morrissey maintains that he did not have an inappropriate relationship with his then 17-year-old receptionist, even though he believed she was 22 while working in his law office.

“The idea of having a statute that says if you have intimate relations with someone who turns out to be too young, even if they misrepresent their age, even if they give you a false ID….without knowing that, you can have requisite intent and be a victim of a felony, that bothers me and that statute shouldn’t stand,” Baugh said.

"Any of these felonies, if convicted, would be a career-ender for him as a delegate," said CBS-6 legal analyst Todd Stone.

Neely says convictions on the charges against Morrissey would add up to more than 30 years behind bars.  In addition, anyone convicted of such charges would have to register as a  sex offender.