RICHMOND, Va. -- Front-running Richmond mayoral candidate Joe Morrissey allegedly exposed himself to a female client at his law firm In February and pressured her to have sex with him, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report published Friday afternoon.
When she refused him, the report stated, Morrissey turned her case over to another lawyer in his office, who pushed her into taking a plea deal because she hadn't paid Morrissey enough.
On Thursday, a Henrico County judge hearing the allegations allowed the 35-year-old woman to withdraw her guilty plea for failing to return a rental car. She had already spent two weeks in jail of her 90-day sentence when she was released by the judge's order.
The woman, Kanika Shani Morris, provided the Times-Dispatch with emails purportedly from Morrissey - some graphic - consistent with her statements about her experiences, the paper stated.
Morris told the paper she had believed in Morrissey's reputation as a fighter for his clients, but found - quote - "he's more worried about what you can do for him sexually. What he can get out of a woman."
Morrissey told the newspaper the sexual encounter did not take place and said there was another attorney present the whole time.
Morrissey released the following statement disputing Morris’ account:
The allegations set forth in the Richmond Times Dispatch are absolutely false. I did not handle her guilty plea. The two lawyers who represented Ms. Morris will confirm that her allegations are specious. Her are the facts:
Several years ago (approximately 6), I met Kanika Morris, a flight attendant for a local airline. She was a girlfriend with whom I had a brief relationship.
On February 1, 2016, Ms. Morris came to my office. Ms. Morris had been charged with grand larceny, to wit: fraud. I had not seen her in several years. She was interviewed by another attorney, Catherine Mullins, who took all the notes. Thereafter, Catherine Mullins came to my office and briefed me on the case. Catherine then brought Ms. Morris into my office to discuss the case. Ms. Mullins stayed in the office with Ms. Morris and me the entire time. At no time was there any inappropriate behavior, inappropriate touching, etc. Ms. Morris left my office and Ms. Mullins and I continued to discuss the case.
Several days later, Ms. Morris retained me.
It is my recollection that sometime later in February 2016, there were some flirtatious texts back and forth between Ms. Morris and myself. Notwithstanding the flirtatious text messages, at no time were we ever alone or otherwise intimate.
I assigned two different attorneys to handle her case. First Ms. Mullins and then Mr. Galanides. Thereafter, Ms. Morris stopped by the office on several occasions to drop off paperwork. On each and every occasion, Ms. Mullins met with Ms. Morris and I did not have any contact with her whatsoever.
The last contact that I recall having with Ms. Morris was in June of 2016.
At no time did she ever tell any attorney that she was dissatisfied in any way with the firm’s services or with me.
Thereafter, Paul Galanides took over the case and had 100% contact with her. He handled her sentencing and she was given a 90-day jail sentence. The last communication I had with Ms. Morris was when she called my office to say that she was disappointed with the results and demanded that I do whatever I could to have her avoid jail time. I took this as a threat and did not return her call. She then texted me. I did not return her text.
In an email statement, attorney Catherine Mullins said she remembered meeting with Morris on Feb. 1.
“I met with her alone in my office and then the two of us met with Joe in his office. To my recollection, I was with her the entire time and she was never alone in Joe’s office. She told me she knew Joe preciously from his work with his group home. Because Joe knew her, he offered her a greatly reduced rate for her case. After the meeting, she left the office and Joe and I continued to talk briefly about the case and why she gave her a greatly reduced fee. I do not recall if she retained us on that day or if she came back later to retain us.”
Additionally, Mullins said she was the primary attorney working on Morris’ case and did not remember her client meeting with Morrissey privately.
Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon Taylor said her office is investigating.
According to the city charter, this investigation would not keep Morrissey off the mayoral ballot, even if he is charged.
Local attorneys said it is highly unusual for judges to allow guilty pleas to be withdrawn and that a standard of manifest injustice must be met.
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