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Joe Morrissey disbarred for violating State Bar rules

Jeremy Lazarus | 4/6/2018, 8:14 a.m.
“Fighting Joe” has been hit with a knockout blow. For the second time in his career, Joseph D. “Joe” Morrissey, ...

“Fighting Joe” has been hit with a knockout blow.

For the second time in his career, Joseph D. “Joe” Morrissey, a savvy attorney and former Richmond prosecutor who built a reputation as a courtroom battler, has lost his license to practice law.

While dismissing 18 of the 21 charges the regulatory Virginia State Bar brought against him, a three-judge panel hit the 60-year-old Mr. Morrissey with the harshest punishment possible — revocation of his law license.

If the judges’ decision stands, Mr. Morrissey would have to close his law practice based in Highland Springs and could not represent clients in state courts.

He could still teach, work behind the scenes and be involved with clients in administrative cases involving government agencies. He also could run for public office — and there is a rumor he might do so again.

Mr. Morrissey and his legal team, however, are promising what many consider a long-shot appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Mr. Morrissey did not respond to a Free Press request for comment.

The decision, which was not unexpected, came March 30 from a three-judge panel that spent a week hearing testimony at the John Marshall Courts Building.

The panel, led by Chief Judge Paul W. Cella of the 11th Judicial Circuit, made the revocation effective June 15 to give Mr. Morrissey time to inform his clients and wrap up any legal cases.

The panel, which also included senior Judges Jonathan C. Thacher of Fairfax and Louis R. Lerner, deliberated for an hour after testimony and arguments concluded, but offered little public explanation for choosing disbarment over a license suspension or a reprimand.

Revocation was what attorneys for the State Bar had sought after spending nearly three years investigating and preparing the case. For them, the ruling represented vindication.

Nearly six years ago, a divided state Supreme Court voted 4-3 to reinstate Mr. Morrissey’s law license over the objections of the State Bar. Mr. Morrissey had been disbarred in 2003 for violating legal codes of conduct and the State Bar argued in 2012 that he had not changed.

Members of Mr. Morrissey’s legal team, including state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr., requested a 30-day suspension based on dismissal of the bulk of the charges.

Sen. Stanley said afterward that Mr. Morrissey’s legal team would request the Supreme Court delay imposition of the panel’s decision while the appeal is under consideration. However, the state’s highest court appears to be reluctant to put a hold on revocation during an appeal, a review of past cases indicates.

The crux of the case against Mr. Morrissey involves his 2013 relationship with Myrna Pride, then a 17-year-old receptionist working in Mr. Morrissey’s law office.

The two allegedly had a sexual relationship soon after she started working at the firm that was reported to police. He was convicted in Henrico Circuit Court in December 2014 of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor. He served a three-month jail term while serving as a member of the General Assembly.