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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Joseph D. Morrissey used to be one of the most outspoken members of Virginia's House of Delegates, a habitual speechmaker who gave a lengthy soliloquy on the House floor nearly every day.
These days Morrissey, who is currently spending his nights in jail after a sex scandal involving a teenager, is a near-silent pariah as state lawmakers in both parties try to figure out what to do with him.
Republican House Speaker William J. Howell and Democratic Minority Leader David J. Toscano made clear at the beginning of 2015 legislative session that they were considering some form of punishment for Morrissey, including a censure or expulsion. But nearly three weeks — and four new felony indictments against Morrissey later — they said they are still weighing their options and it's not clear what, if any, action the House plans to take.
Both Howell and Toscano said there's no pressing need to punish Morrissey anytime soon because he's been effectively marginalized.
"He's a complete nonentity at the Capitol right now," said Toscano. "He's been so invisible here that it doesn't have the kind of urgency it did when he first got in."
Howell stripped Morrissey of his committee assignments at the beginning of the session. As the now most junior member of the House, Morrissey has had to move offices and has a new desk in the corner of the House floor. Largely ignored by colleagues, Morrissey's bills have been quickly killed off in committee hearings with virtually no discussion.
"For all practical purposes we've done everything but expel him," Howell said.
The 57-year-old Morrissey, who declined comment for this article, is on a work-release program that allows him to spend his days at the General Assembly while confined to a Henrico County jail at night.
Morrissey is serving time after taking a plea deal for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was accused of — but vehemently denied — having sex multiple times at his law office with a then 17-year-old girl he hired as a receptionist.
At the urging of several House members, Morrissey announced his resignation in December. But it was only temporary, as Morrissey ran as an independent and won his seat back in a special election a day before the start of the 2015 legislative session in mid-January.
A week later Morrissey was indicted on four felony charges accusing him of forging records related to the plea deal he took involving the teenage woman. Morrissey, an attorney known as "Fighting Joe" since his 1993 courthouse fistfight with another lawyer, said the charges are false.
Those indictments drew a fresh round of rebukes for Morrissey from House leadership but no action. Howell said he's still considering all possible options, but added that he's concerned an effort to expel Morrissey may not be constitutional and would draw unwanted attention.
"We don't need that kind of publicity," said Howell, who added that he doesn't want to "drag the state through a long harangue in federal court."
Toscano said he's also happy to keep Morrissey's name out of headlines.
"Right now no one is paying attention to him and that's what we want," he said. "It's like he doesn't exist anymore."
Alan Suderman can be reached at www.twitter.com/AlanSuderman.
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