Going to Jail Over a Teen Sex Scandal Apparently Doesn’t Stop You from Getting Elected — Twice

Former Virginia delegate Joe Morrissey just won Tuesday's primary — despite spending time in jail back in 2015.
June 12, 2019, 4:51pm
Former Virginia delegate Joe Morrissey, a former defense lawyer who lost his law license, spent time in jail back in 2015 — and just won his primary.

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It turns out spending time in jail after allegedly having a sexual relationship with a teenager doesn’t mean your political career is over.

Former Virginia delegate Joe Morrissey handily defeated the incumbent, state Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance (57% to 43%) in Tuesday’s primary. In the process, he also secured the seat for himself, because the November ballot won’t have a Republican challenger. Morrissey’s triumph, despite his scandal-laden past, signals a growing resentment of establishment Democrats in the state.


The former defense lawyer who lost his law license spent time in jail back in 2015 after he pleaded guilty to a single count of contributing delinquency to a minor. Prosecutors in the case said that Morrissey, then 56, was having sex with his 17-year-old receptionist. (The two are now married with children.)

Morrissey could have spent up to 41 years in prison. The age of consent in Virginia is 18, and he faced numerous felony charges — such as the possession and distribution of child pornography based on nude images on his phone. (Morrissey’s legal team claimed that a jealous friend of his future wife planted the images on his phone.)

Morrissey’s legislative career is full of tumult. He won a special election in 2015 to regain his delegate seat after he resigned over the teen sex scandal. Separate from that sex scandal, Morrissey also allegedly pressured a legal client for sex, though prosecutors declined to charge him in 2016. The soon-to-be state senator first mounted a political comeback that year, when he ran for mayor of Richmond, and the accusation is widely viewed to have tanked his initially promising bid for the city’s highest political seat.

Morrissey’s victory in the face of a sex scandal is not an anomaly. After all, the president of the United States has been publicly accused of — and even sued for — sexual misconduct by numerous women. A 2018 VICE News review found that 16 state lawmakers who were publicly involved in sexual misconduct scandals won their primaries and advanced to the November general election.

Morrissey, who’s white, heavily relied on support from Virginia’s black community, to unseat Dance, who’s black, in Wednesday’s primary, according to the Washington Post. Dance had broad support from big-name Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine. Dance also had a close relationship with Gov. Ralph Northam, who faced a scandal of his own earlier this year after a photo in his med school yearbook featured man in blackface next to someone in Klan robes.

Cover image: In this Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 photo, Richmond, Va., mayoral candidate Joe Morrissey waves to supporters as he campaigns on a busy street corner in Richmond, Va. Morrissey faces five other candidates. On Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, the Henrico County Commonwealth's Attorney said Morrissey won't face criminal charges following allegations he pressured a legal client for sex. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)