Chutzpah, Thy Name Is Joe Morrissey

Fighting Joe -- showboating with an assault rifle in the General Assembly.
Fighting Joe — showboating with an assault rifle in the General Assembly.

by James A. Bacon

“Chutzpah” is a Yiddish word for cheek and audacity. Eastern European Jews may have invented the term, but Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Richmond, personifies it. Convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, he won re-election to the House of Delegates in a snap election yesterday while cooling his heels in Henrico County jail,

I know Joe Morrissey. I like Joe Morrissey. He’s smart, curious and outgoing, and he has an infectious enthusiasm. When I published my book, “Boomergeddon,” four years ago, he invited me to lunch to talk about it. He disagreed with my thesis — that the United States was heading for a fiscal breakdown in 15 to 20 years — but he was open to discussing it. When he’s on good behavior, he’s interesting, well-informed and entertaining. Fortunately for me in my dealings with him, I’ve only encountered the good Joe Morrissey.

But the bad Joe Morrissey is very bad. He’s hot headed, infamously getting into a courthouse brawl with another attorney years ago and later assaulting a handyman who worked for him. The latter incident resulted in a suspension of his law license. He’s also fathered three children out of wedlock with three different women — and that doesn’t include the young woman, 17 years old at the time and now 18, with whom he allegedly had sex in a dalliance that landed him his current spell in jail. That woman, who worked in his office, now is pregnant and won’t identify the father.

Morrissey has parlayed his colorful past into an electoral asset. He portrays himself as a fighter and a scrapper, willing to stand up for the little guy — a message that resonates in his predominantly African-American legislative district in Richmond, eastern Henrico County and Charles City County. African-American voters apparently are more forgiving of his moral foibles than straight-laced political leaders such as Governor Terry McAuliffe and House Speaker William Howell, who find Morrissey an embarrassment and would like to see him gone from the legislature.

I’m inclined to forgive Morrissey a lot. In the 19th century, his ready resort to fisticuffs would have been considered ordinary. And one can argue that his irregular domestic affairs are his own business. But there is one big problem I cannot overlook: He appears to be an outrageous liar. Rather than admit to his misdeeds with his under-age receptionist, he launched an all-out denial. He never had sex with the girl, he said, and, besides, he thought she was older than 17.

What about the incriminating photos and text messages on his cell phone that prove otherwise? You can’t match Joe Morrissey for chutzpah. The photos and messages, he claims, were planted by the girl’s jealous lesbian lover who hacked his phone! Somewhere in New York, Anthony Weiner must be kicking himself for not thinking of that line.

Cynics can argue that politicians lie all the time, so what’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal when we catch them. And few lies have been as flagrant as the whoppers that Morrissey wants the public to swallow. He has repeatedly shown bad judgment and he has no credibility with fellow legislators. He cannot possibly provide effective representation. He should do his constituents a favor and step down. Of course, he won’t. He wouldn’t be Fighting Joe Morrissey if he did.

Addendum: Here’s the Alford plea agreement summarizing the commonwealth’s case against Morrissey and Morrissey’s defense. Decide for yourself.

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15 responses to “Chutzpah, Thy Name Is Joe Morrissey”

  1. My first inclination would be to agree with Jim but then he had to add this: “Cynics can argue that politicians lie all the time, so what’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal when we catch them.”

    which sets off all kinds of alarm bells.. and leaves me wondering if people actually know who Morrissey is and they’ve made a judgment about what level of confidence they have in him – as a legislator.

    which intrigues me all the more in thinking about what would have happened to Bob McDonnell had he pled guilty to that minor charge and moved on… and would have remained a viable political force in Virginia!

    Perhaps Morrissey is a politician that his constituents DO KNOW and are okay with him in his role, perhaps in a similar way that many would support McDonnell even with his conviction?

    1. I don’t think anyone “supports McDonnell, even with his conviction.” There are legitimate issues as to whether he should have been convicted. But his actions, whether legal or illegal, disqualify him from holding public office.

      Plenty of people question whether McDonnell should go to jail. (I do.) But let’s imagine what would happen if his convictions were overturned on appeal. Would McDonnell suddenly have a political future? No.

      1. so Jim, would you have supported McDonnell if he had pled guilty to the minor charge and stayed in politics? How about others?

        Could he have waited a couple of years and got back into a race for Senate ?

        1. No, I would never support McDonnell, not if he had plead guilty to a lesser charge, not if he wins his appeals and overthrows his convictions. He showed terrible judgment in accepting gifts from Jonnie Williams and/or allowing his wife to accept the gifts. That bad judgment disqualifies him from office.

          I don’t think that McDonnell deserves to go to jail, but that doesn’t mean I would ever vote for him again.

          1. you may have missed my point. If he pled to the lower charge – would you know anything else about his judgement if nothing else came out?

            You think if he pled guilty to the lower charge – and nothing else came out – he’d still be done in politics in Va?

            I’m thinking he would have stayed viable especially in RoVa.


          2. Yeah, fair point. If McDonnell hadn’t gone to trial, we wouldn’t have known what he and his wife had done. We would have had hints thanks to investigators’ leaks, but we wouldn’t have known the full story. It’s entirely possible that he could have survived politically.

          3. so the “sins” of Morrissey come nowhere near to the sins of McDonnell in terms of qualifying for office?

            or.. is it probably also true if Morrissey was running for Gov – he’d be toast and held in even lower repute than McDonnell?

            I went back and read how the McDonnells got draw into legal system and it’s funny as hell.. the McDonnells – Maureen and the kids were said to be stealing food and equipment from the Gov Mansion Kitchen and then when the Chef catered one of the kids wedding – he was encouraged to take food from the kitchen for his payment and then he got caught and neither Maureen nor Bob had his back.. they just let him swing in the wind, and so he spilled the beans..

            that does not sound like a skilled politico.. I thought they were much slimier…

            Morrissey’s sins are apparently – forgivable…

  2. Morrissey just got elected. His district voted for him. Democracy really ought to mean that a district has the right to the representative for whom they have voted. I wouldna voted for him, but his voters did. The news was full of his crimes, and his voters backed him. So my view is he should be seated and go forward.

    1. You mean like Marion Barry?


      I tend to agree. This is an elective form of government and unless we make convictions grounds for disqualification… so be it..

  3. billsblots Avatar

    Actually reading laws in Virginia code, or anywhere, is often fascinating and with some of the restrictive laws that exist here (Virginia) it is curious and maybe disconcerting that an adult can have sexual relations with a 15 year old and it is only a misdemeanor. The old and punitive “statutory rape” has been waived and modified for that group. However I still wonder why prostitution is illegal, not giving the “okay” to human trafficking or by minors of course. Virginia has a dozen or so laws dealing with the evil “bingo”, that apparently has been a big concern to some people, and you could be in big trouble and convicted of a crime just for the act of visiting a “bawdy place”, but sex with a 15 year old, just a misdemeanor and probably waive the 1 year and $2500.

  4. Is anyone interested in Morrissey’s “baby daddy” times 3 status with three different women? Is he supporting his progeny?
    The now 18 year old with whom he had a sexual relationship, is described as being “visibly pregnant”. Will there be any effort made by law enforcement to determine the child’s paternity? Why is there no mention of the fact that the then 17 year- old is an African American teen?

    1. El Sidd, I don’t know how the teenager’s race is relevant to the story, but her pregnancy certainly *is* germane. Presumably, she was not impregnated by her jealous lesbian former lover. Unless she had other paramours, none of whom have been mentioned in the press or in court filings, that leaves only one likely suspect.

  5. Hmmm- Not EVEN Larryg has chimed in…
    Race IS the elephant in the room-
    I’ll explain my view later…no need to ruin a beautiful day.
    But in the meantime will say-
    Little “Fighting Joe”, standing in for every conceivable stereotype of the old South: master/servant/slave, exploitation of underlings– as a powerful, now, seemingly -INVINCIBLE-white elected politician- bangs away on a minor daughter,( 40 years his junior), of his predominantly black constituency-.
    Little Joe violates everything related to trust, morality and obligation as a public servant. His constituents may still have faith in him, but as a LAWMAKER in the General Assembly , he makes laws under which I have to live and function.

    1. well – all that said – he’s subject to being voted in or voted out of office.

      what more can you say?

      are we lacking additional ethics rules? which ones?

  6. […] district is predominantly African-American. His voters have faithfully reelected him throughout his political tenure as a representative of […]

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