The Collegian
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Del. Jim Morrissey commutes from jail with special privileges

The Virginia State Capitol has received more unwanted national attention following former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s conviction thanks to Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, I-Henrico.

Morrissey was convicted of having inappropriate relations with a then-17-year-old girl in December of last year. After entering into a misdemeanor plea to avoid felony charges last month, he swiftly resigned from the Virginia House of Delegates and was sentenced to 12 months in jail.

However, a special election was held soon after, and to the surprise of House leaders, Morrissey successfully campaigned from his cell to immediately recapture his seat as an Independent.

“I suspect [Morrissey] knew how the Democratic Party was going to react, but he also knew how his constituents were going to react,” said Ernest McGowen, a political science professor at University of Richmond.

McGowen’s areas of expertise include elections and public opinion. He explained that because of Morrissey’s reputation for fighting for his minority electorate, voters in Henrico County were able to stand behind him at the polls despite his conviction.

“This fact gets a little minimized in the media, but you can’t discount the role that race plays in this,” McGowen said. "Joseph Morrissey, for better or for worse, has always said he’s a champion of racial and ethnic minorities, and in the racial dynamic that is Richmond, central Virginia, Henrico… it’s really a black-white duality.”

William F. Neely, attorney for Spotsylvania County Commonwealth, was appointed as the special prosecutor for Morrissey’s case in Nov. 2013.

Morrissey is currently permitted to leave jail for 12 hours a day as part of a work-release program that also reduced his sentence to 90 days. He also receives schedule accommodations for the General Assembly’s deviations from normal working hours.

“Mr. Morrissey’s release is extraordinary,” Neely said.

Neely said he had felt that Morrissey had been given a special opportunity not available to the citizens he represented. "The last time a member of the General Assembly was convicted of a crime and placed on work released ... I doubt you’re going to find a precedent for that,” he said.

Morrissey has been given a personal cell, and he has been allowed to drive his personal vehicle, a blue Jaguar, back and forth from Henrico County’s Regional Jail.

Morrissey pleaded not guilty last week to new counts of forgery, felony conspiracy and perjury in relation to documents he vouched for in court. He faces up to 10 years on each count, if convicted.

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Neely said that if Morrissey were to be convicted of a felony, his expulsion from the House of Delegates would be automatic.

Contact reporter Adam Gibson at adam.gibson@richmond.edu

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