- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - An election to fill the seat of a lawmaker who resigned after being accused of having sex with his teenage secretary is special in more ways than one: First, the legislator who quit is running to get the seat back. And then there is the likelihood that if he succeeds, his colleagues in the House will try to kick him back out again.

Disgraced former Virginia lawmaker Joe Morrissey has said that voters should have a chance to decide in Tuesday’s special election whether he deserves to continue holding office after he was accused of - but vehemently denied - having sex multiple times at his law office with a 17-year-old girl he hired as a receptionist.

Prosecutors alleged that the 57-year-old Morrissey and the girl both texted their friends about the encounter, and that Morrissey also procured a nude photo of the teen and sent it to a friend. The Henrico County Democrat claimed his cellphone was hacked. But he resigned his seat and entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence for a conviction.

If he is elected again, Morrissey will be performing his legislative duties while on work release from a six-month jail sentence imposed last month. The plea allowed him to avoid trial on four felony charges that, if he were convicted, could have landed him in prison for years and automatically disqualified from the House.

Morrissey has angered legislators from both parties by deciding to run for the seat as an independent. House Speaker William J. Howell, a Republican, called Morrissey’s move “a despicable, arrogant political stunt.” House Democratic Minority Leader David J. Toscano called it “both outrageous and sad.”

It takes a two-thirds vote of the House to expel a member - an extraordinary measure last employed in 1876.

Morrissey’s defiance is in keeping with the “fighting Joe” image the lawyer cultivated in a career marked by fistfights, contempt of court citations and the loss and reinstatement of his law license. Voters of Virginia’s 74th House District -consisting of Charles City County and parts of Henrico County and Richmond - seemed to embrace the persona, electing Morrissey four times with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Morrissey’s opponents in Tuesday’s election are Democrat Kevin Sullivan and Republican Matt Walton. Sullivan last week aired a radio ad featuring the father of the teenage girl, who is now 18, saying Morrissey does not belong in public office and warning listeners that “next time it could be your daughter or even your granddaughter.” Walton, meanwhile, has declined to address Morrissey’s situation.

Walton and Morrissey appeared Sunday at a candidate forum that was disrupted by some of the teenager’s relatives, who carried placards denouncing Morrissey and taunted him as he left the event. Sullivan attended a campaign rally elsewhere.

Morrissey’s campaign holds a cash advantage with $73,900 on hand as of Jan. 2, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in state politics. Walton and Sullivan had $9,551 and $12,885, respectively. But Sullivan has since reported $18,000 in additional large donations, while Walton has reported an additional $1,000.

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