RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia legislator Joseph Morrissey on Tuesday vehemently denied allegations that he had sex with a 17-year-old receptionist at his law office, even as a fellow lawmaker urged him to resign from the General Assembly.
On Monday, a grand jury in Henrico County handed up a five-count indictment that also charged the Richmond delegate with possession of child pornography. The allegations represent the most serious chapter in Morrissey's long history of controversial actions, from fistfights to contempt of court.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Morrissey portrayed himself as the unwitting victim of a scheme cooked up by former friends of the alleged victim who he said used cellphone gadgets to create a false trail of lurid text messages, including an illicit photograph that led to the charge of possession and distribution of child pornography. He could face a maximum of 40 years behind bars.
"This case is going to be fact-driven by the evidence. It's not the lawyers. The evidence is there, the facts are there. I was wrongfully accuse, and the evidence will completely exonerate me," said Morrissey, a Democrat.
State Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, said that even though Morrissey is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the charges are serious enough that he should step down and deal with his legal problems as a private citizen.
"Whether these charges ultimately prove to be true or not, one thing is absolutely clear: No person accused of such horrendous acts should hold a position of public trust," Keam said in a statement Tuesday.
Morrissey, a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, has been under investigation since police found the girl at his home on a Friday night in August. Morrissey said Tuesday that the girl was there with her mother's permission for advice about a family matter involving her estranged father.
He added that his five-person defense team was not given sufficient opportunity to present evidence that a third person impersonating the alleged victim sent text messages and the photo in hopes of creating the impression that Morrissey was having an affair with the girl.
The special prosecutor, Spotsylvania Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely, disagreed: "All I can say is Mr. Morrissey's lawyer presented that information to the special grand jury, and they voted to indict. Countervailing evidence was also presented."
Morrissey said that Neely has a vendetta against him dating to two cases they tried against each other 20 years ago.
Neely said that the judge overseeing the grand jury denied Morrissey's motion to remove him as special prosecutor and that he displayed no personal animosity against Morrissey.
"I have been a career Virginia prosecutor for 32 years, and my professional record speaks for itself. I did not seek (nor welcome) this appointment. Rather, I am merely doing my best as a career prosecutor to follow Virginia law in this criminal investigation," Neely said.
In court documents, Neely said that Morrissey and the girl engaged in "repeated consensual acts of sexual intercourse" at his law office and that later each texted friends about the encounter.
"While I appreciate the prosecutor's suggestion that I have that energy resource, it's absolutely false," Morrissey said of the allegations. "For him to say that there was consensual sexual relations at my law office is inflammatory and inaccurate."
He added that the girl and her mother deny that Morrissey did anything wrong.
Robert Walker, the attorney for the girl's mother, said that the text messages are bogus and that Morrissey did nothing wrong.
"She's totally in his corner and has stated on several occasion that he was nothing but a gentleman and totally respectful with her daughter," he said.
Elected officials in Virginia have been under increased legal and ethical scrutiny recently.
Phillip Puckett, a Democrat, resigned his Virginia Senate seat last month, throwing control of that body to the Republicans, after they apparently arranged a state job for him. Puckett has denied any quid pro quo, but federal investigators are looking into the case.
Alleged public corruption will again be center stage later this month when former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican, and his wife, Maureen, stand trial on charges that they traded the prestige of the governor's office for lavish gifts and loans.
"Unfortunately, just in the past few years alone, we have seen too many members of the House and the Senate, and even a governor, leave their positions under dark clouds of ethical lapses or criminal suspicions," Keam said. "Virginians deserve better from their public servants."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun