Morrissey confronts sex scandal days before mayoral election

Julie Tripp
Joe Morrissey (center) addresses a question about improving education at the Mayorathon debate hosted by Richmond Magazine earlier this month. Photo by Julie Tripp.

A little more than a week ahead of the vote for mayor, the Richmond Times-Dispatch broke news of an alleged sexting scandal ensnaring the current front-runner, former state delegate Joe Morrissey.

The article in question published Friday, shortly after a Henrico County judge allowed a woman formerly represented by Morrissey’s law firm to withdraw a guilty plea.

Kanika Shani Morris, 35, was released from jail on Thursday — serving only two weeks of her 90-day sentence — amidst allegations that Morrissey pressured her for sex.

On Saturday, Morrissey’s lawyer gave the Times-Dispatch the opportunity to retract the statement that he made sexual advances toward a potential client. Morrissey said he will not be withdrawing his candidacy for mayor in light of the new allegations. Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor is investigating the case while Morrissey campaigns for the mayoral bid on Nov. 8.

According to the Times-Dispatch article, Morris said she retained Morrissey in February for what she recognized was a reduced rate on the retainer fee. Shortly after agreeing on the rate, Morris said Morrissey stood between her and the closed door of his office and asked her to touch his genitals. When she refused, Morrissey allegedly asked her to send explicit photos instead.

Morris supplied the Times-Dispatch with text messages from Morrissey that corroborate her account of him repeatedly asking for explicit photos. When she repeatedly refused or ignored him, Morris said Morrissey handed her case to another attorney in his law firm without her knowledge.

Morris was facing a felony for allegedly failing to return a rental car, and she told the Times-Dispatch she was not confident a public defender would take her case seriously.

Morris’ new attorney allegedly told Morris she was not paying enough for Morrissey to represent her at the jury trial she requested; Morris said her new attorney then informed her she would plead guilty to reduce her charge to a misdemeanor, instead.

According to a transcript of Morris’ sentencing earlier this month, she cried throughout the hearing. Morris, who is seven-months-pregnant, told the Times-Dispatch she has a son with a chronic medical condition and could not afford a three month jail sentence in the final weeks of her current pregnancy.

On Friday, Morrissey released a statement in response to the Times-Dispatch article, stating the allegations set forth are “absolutely false.”

“I did not handle (Morris’) guilty plea,” reads the statement, “The two lawyers who represented Ms. Morris will confirm that her allegations are specious.”

Morrissey held a subsequent press conference at his home Friday evening while standing before reporters with his wife, Myrna. Again, Morrissey denied the Times-Dispatch’s story and said a female attorney in his law office, Catherine Mullins, was present throughout the initial February meeting with Morris.

To back his account, Morrissey provided an email from Mullins dated Oct. 28 which reads, “To my recollection, I was with her the entire time and she was never alone in Joe’s office. She told me she knew Joe previously from his work with his group home.”

Morrissey was less than three months engaged to his wife, Myrna, who was pregnant with the couple’s second child, at the time of the alleged February encounter with Morris.

While Morrissey refuted at any point being alone or “otherwise intimate,” with Morris, he did acknowledge sending “flirtatious” texts.

“And while I don’t recall the exact texts, I don’t deny them at all,” Morrissey said during the Friday press conference. “What I do deny is ever, ever having any contact with her outside of my office after that first day with the exception (of) a preliminary hearing in June.”

Shortly after this, Myrna asked the reporters present in her foyer to leave, repeating several times that her husband had answered all the questions he needed to.

“I nicely asked you guys to stop the questioning, and to stop your video and to please exit my home,” Myrna said after both her husband and reporters ignored her initial request. “I can’t ask you guys any nicer. Please.”

Myrna, who is now 20-years-old, has been adamant about maintaining her agency throughout she and her husband’s publicity-riddled relationship. She is currently a full-time student at J. Sargeant Reynolds.

In 2014, Morrissey entered into an Alford Plea after prosecutors charged him with delinquency of a minor in connection with his now-wife who was then a 17-year-old receptionist at his law firm. Morrissey spent 17 months in jail and won his General Assembly seat while serving time.

“Can you imagine picking up the Richmond Times-Dispatch and seeing Jeff (Schapiro) describe you as an ‘alleged sexting partner-turned-wife and the mother of two of his five children by four women?’”she wrote in a September email statement to local news outlets. “Another Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter referred to me as the woman ‘also known as his wife.’ That was most hurtful.”

According to the most recent poll, conducted by ChamberRVA in preparation for the only televised debate earlier this month, Morrissey is leading in six of Richmond’s nine districts.


Sarah King. Photo by Julie TrippSarah King
Sarah is a senior studying political science and philosophy of law. She is a copyeditor for INK Magazine and reporter for the Capital News Service wire. Last spring, the Virginia Press Association awarded Sarah 3rd place for Public Safety Writing Portfolio and the Hearst Awards recognized her as the 4th place winner for Breaking News Writing. In April, Sarah was invited to the White House for the Administration’s inaugural College Reporter Day. She previously worked as an editorial intern for as Congressional Quarterly Researcher and SAGE Business Researcher in Washington, D.C., as well as RVAmag and
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