Virginia's outgoing governor has pardoned a state senator who was jailed after a sex scandal that involved a 17-year-old receptionist who later became his wife.
Sen. Joe Morrissey told The Associated Press that Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, issued a pardon for the 2014 misdemeanor Thursday.
“I’m very grateful to the governor,” Morrissey said Friday.
"As I’ve said repeatedly on the floor of the state Senate: When you show compassion to other people and mercy, it’s not a sign of weakness, but usually just the opposite — strength,” Morrissey added.
Morrissey's pardon was first reported by The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Northam leaves office Saturday. He said in a news release that he granted pardons to more than 1,200 Virginians during the past four years, including exonerations for eight people who were wrongfully convicted.
“Virginians are forgiving people, who believe in second chances,” Northam said in a statement. “When people make mistakes, and pay their debts, they deserve the opportunity to return and be productive members of society."
The pardon is another rung on the ladder of redemption for Morrissey, 64, a scandal-scarred politician who has been disbarred twice and calls himself “Fighting Joe. ”
The pardon stems from a scandal that began when Morrissey was in the House of Delegates nearly eight years ago. He resigned his seat after being convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, his receptionist at his law firm.
Morrissey won reelection as an independent in a special election a month later. For the next two months, he spent his days working at the General Assembly. But he served his nights in jail as part of a work-release sentence on the conviction, for which he is now pardoned.
In March 2015, Morrissey resigned his seat in the House to run for the Virginia State Senate, but failed to qualify for the Democratic primary ballot.
In 2016, he was the frontrunner in the Richmond mayor’s race until a legal client accused him of making unwanted sexual advances and sending her lewd text messages.
In 2019, Morrissey defeated Democratic Sen. Rosalyn Dance in a primary election and went on to win the general election.
Representing parts of the Richmond area, the state senator became one of the most prolific sponsors of criminal justice reform bills, many of them aimed at ending disparate treatment of African Americans and other minorities, groups that are among his biggest supporters.
Morrissey said he and his wife are both “delighted” by the pardon.
“The people who are even more pleased are our four young children, who will understand it in the ensuing years and decades,” Morrissey said.
Morrissey said his lawyers will use the pardon to immediately pursue the return of his law license.
“It’s beyond symbolic,” Morrissey said. “It sends a strong message about what the Commonwealth did to us.”
Ben Finley, The Associated Press