A Virginia state lawmaker who recently entered a plea in connection with accusations that he had an improper sexual relationship with a teenager said Thursday he will let the voters decide whether he should stay or go.
Democratic Del. Joseph D. Morrissey announced that he has submitted his resignation, but said he plans to run for the same seat in a special election set for Jan 13.
"It is the voters and not political pundits and not partisan caucuses that should decide who serves in office," Morrissey said at a news conference in his Capitol office.
Morrissey's decision to run for re-election surprised many, including House Speaker William J. Howell, who called the move "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. He urged Morrissey's voters "to retire Mr. Morrissey permanently."
Morrissey struck a defiant tone, saying there is no precedent for a sitting lawmaker to be expelled from office for committing a misdemeanor crime.
He was sentenced to 12 months in jail with six months suspended, but will ultimately serve three months, according to one of his attorneys. Morrissey is in a work-release program that allowed him to work as a legislator and lawyer by day, while spending nights in a Henrico County jail.
Morrissey's own caucus and several other high-profile Democrats have called on him to step down after he entered an Alford plea last week in Henrico County Circuit Court on a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In an Alford plea, a defendant acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction but doesn't admit guilt.
According to prosecutors, Morrissey and a 17-year-old girl, who worked for him as a receptionist, had sex multiple times at his law office in August 2013 and texted their friends about it.
Morrissey, 57, also procured a nude photo of the teen "to help him fantasize about their next encounter," according to special prosecutor William Neely, and sent the picture to a friend.
Morrissey has vehemently denied the allegations and claimed his cellphone was hacked.
One of the most colorful characters in Virginia politics, Morrissey has a long history of courting controversy.
A 1991 courthouse fistfight with a defense attorney earned Morrissey, then Richmond's chief prosecutor, a five-day jail sentence.
After losing his re-election bid in 1993 under the cloud of bribery and perjury charges on which he was later acquitted, Morrissey went into private practice. He capitalized on the widely reported courthouse brawl by calling himself a "fighter" for his clients on ads plastered on city buses and decorating his office with boxing gloves.
Fisticuffs with a building contractor led to a misdemeanor assault and battery conviction and suspension of Morrissey's law license in 2000. Three years later, the state bar revoked his license for failing to tell clients about the suspension. Unable to practice law, he taught in Ireland and then Australia before returning to Virginia in 2006 and winning four House elections in a row.