HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Del. Joe Morrissey announced Thursday morning he would resign from the House of Delegates, but will run for the position in a special election in the hopes voters will keep him in the seat.
Morrissey handed in his notice of resignation effective January 13, 2015, the date a special election will be held for the seat.
"Right now there is a bit of a cloud or taint over my seat folks from the Governor's office on down have called for my resignation and i have given and done everything my detractors have said," he said. "They want me to step down and I will do that but it's not the political pundits, it's not legislators, it is not I who should decide whether or not I stay or go. It is...the voters in the 74th House District."
Delegate Morrissey didn't waste any time on the campaign trail. Around 3 p.m. he was seen shaking hands with voters at a shopping center in Eastern Henrico. He is on work release and is supposed to tell the sheriff's office where he is when he is outside of the General Assembly building and his law office. But the sheriff tells NBC12's Ashley Monfort, he was not aware about Morrissey's campaign stop, until after she called him.
Morrissey is currently serving time on work release after entering an Alford plea to charges of an inappropriate sexual relationship with his receptionist, who was 17 years old at the time. The plea means Morrissey does not admit guilt, but acknowledges there's enough evidence for him to be found guilty at trial.
Virginia Democrats who had called for his resignation, applauded his decision to resign. The Caucus' initial statement was issued after the receipt of Delegate Morrissey's letter of resignation but before his announcement of running in the special election.
"Delegate Morrissey's announcement that he will run in a special election after just resigning his House of Delegates' seat is both outrageous and sad," said Democratic Leader David J. Toscano. "To say it is outrageous goes without saying, but it is also a sad and sorry display of political grandstanding that simply hurts the Commonwealth, its political institutions and the constituents that he purports to represent. This further confirms my view that he should not be serving in the House of Delegates."
"We have been very clear that we wanted Delegate Morrissey to step down and allow a new representative to serve the citizens of Richmond, Henrico, and Charles City County," said Caucus Chair Scott Surovell. "It is time for him to honor that request by abiding by his resignation and not attempting to run in the special election."
House of Delegates Speaker William DJ. Howell (R-Stafford) railed against Morrissey's decision to seek the seat in the special election, calling it "deceitful, selfish and disrespectful."
"This is a despicable, arrogant political stunt that should disgust each and every citizen of Virginia," Howell said in a statement. "The people of the 74th district deserve better than this and the obligation now rests with them to retire Mr. Morrissey permanently."
The deadline for political parties to nominate candidates is Tuesday. Prior to Thursday's announcement several candidates already announced their intention to challenge Morrissey for his political seat, including Kevin Sullivan, Lamont Bagby and Matt Walton.
G.Paul Nardo, the clerk for the Virginia House of Delegates, says this situation is not normal. "A little bit surprised that he chose to run for the seat he is now resigning from on January 13th but that's totally within his prerogative and right to do so," says Nardo.
Morrissey has said there will be a civil trial where more information will come out. Meanwhile, he continues to serve his three months on work release. He has to report to Henrico Jail East every night for three months and will be eligible for work release to practice law and serve in the General Assembly. He will also have to wear a GPS monitoring device.
Prosecutors say the 55-year-old had a sexual relationship with a teenage part-time receptionist at his law office last year. She is now 18 years old and has denied, along with her mother, the sexual relationship. But prosecutors say Henrico Police have continued to document interactions and alleged texts indicating a possible relationship between Morrissey and the teen throughout the investigation.
The teen was a receptionist for three weeks before an incident on August 23, 2013 when her father called police to Morrissey's home. The girl was taken by police from Morrissey's home, but denies she ever had an inappropriate relationship with the politician. Her mother says she gave her permission to be at the home and her lawyer says the father does not have custody of the teen.
Court documents show the teen started working at the firm on August 5, 2013 and her lawyer admits she claimed to be 22 on her application. A copy of her job application and resume provided to the media back up her claim. However, prosecutors believe Morrissey was aware of the girl's true age prior to the alleged incidents.
Prosecutors say the night of August 23, 2013 was not the first time the pair was intimate. They argue Morrissey took the girl out for dinner repeatedly after she started working at the firm and that on August 20, 2013 the two had sex repeatedly at his office. Police have copies of text messages from both parties confirming the sexual encounter, according to the court documents.
The next morning, prosecutors say Morrissey sent the teen a text message asking her for a nude photograph, which she sent to him. Prosecutors say Morrissey then sent the photo to a friend.