The Supreme Court of Virginia on Thursday rejected a bid by Joe Morrissey, a former state delegate and now a candidate for state Senate, to reverse a three-judge panel’s decision revoking his law license last year.
The panel of Circuit Court judges acted after a five-day hearing in March 2018 on professional misconduct allegations filed by the Virginia State Bar. Morrissey’s lawyers argued in April that the judges made errors, among them failing to make findings of fact supporting their rulings, and also that the punishment was too harsh.
In Thursday’s unanimous order, the justices found no errors and concluded the punishment was fitting.
“Three points stand out with respect to an appropriate sanction. First, rather than take responsibility, Morrissey tries to shift the blame for his actions to others,” the justices wrote. “The fault, however, does not lie with others.”
“Second, these infractions occurred barely one year after Morrissey regained his law license,” the order continued. “Third, and most significantly, we must weigh into the balance the long and notorious book of Morrissey’s disciplinary history — to which one more chapter has now been added. His disciplinary history consists of eight actions: three Dismissals with Terms, a Private Reprimand, a Public Reprimand, a Suspension of his license to practice law for six months, a Suspension of his license to practice law for three years, and the Revocation of his license to practice law in 2003.
“The three-judge court also admitted a Memorandum Opinion Order from the United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, which disbarred Morrissey from practicing law before that Court. This voluminous history establishes Morrissey’s chronic unwillingness to practice law in conformity with the rules that govern our profession. The sanction of revocation is fully justified.”
In a statement late Thursday, Morrissey’s lawyers, state Sen. Bill Stanley and Frank Friedman, said, “Both our client and we are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court did not reverse the Three-Judge Panel’s ruling.” They noted that 18 of the original charges brought by the Virginia State Bar against Morrissey were dismissed by the panel.
“The remaining three charges we felt were technical offenses, unsupported by the evidence and warranted reversal,” the lawyers said.
They said that, “while today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is disappointing, we will seek Joe’s reinstatement to the Virginia State Bar at the earliest opportunity, so that he can return to the practice of law and fight for his clients as he always has before.”
Morrissey can seek reinstatement from the Virginia Supreme Court after a five-year wait. It is unclear when last year the five-year period began. His license was revoked in 2003, and he won reinstatement in 2012 in a 4-3 decision by the Virginia Supreme Court.
The three-judge panel last year found that Morrissey committed three violations of professional rules of conduct, among them a rule that bars the commission of a criminal or deliberately wrongful act that reflects adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness to practice law.
That violation stemmed from his relationship with his wife. In 2014, Morrissey entered an Alford plea and was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor involving relations with his then-17-year-old office receptionist, Myrna Morrissey, who is now his wife and the mother of three of their children.
Morrissey said he believed Myrna was 18, and Myrna’s mother testified her daughter confessed to her that she had lied to Morrissey and the law firm about her age.
The three-judge panel also ruled that Morrissey violated two rules of conduct in connection with another attorney in his office who represented a man on Morrissey’s behalf before she was completely qualified to do so.
In a 47-page brief filed with the Supreme Court of Virginia earlier this year, Morrissey’s lawyers asked that the judgment revoking his license be reversed and for dismissal of the misconduct charges because of errors they said were made by the panel.
Morrissey is a former Richmond commonwealth’s attorney, state delegate and Richmond mayoral candidate.
Much of the misconduct alleged by the Virginia State Bar in Morrissey’s most recent revocation occurred in 2013, the year after the justices reinstated his license, his lawyers told the Supreme Court of Virginia in April.