Gun Laws & Legislation

Anti-gun Va. lawmaker who brandished AK-47 in legislature was disbarred after brutal 1999 assault

Photo of David Martosko
David Martosko
Executive Editor

A Virginia lawmaker who drew gasps from his colleagues when he brandished a borrowed AK-47 during an anti-gun speech Thursday was found guilty in 2002 of committing a vicious 1999 assault, was sanctioned for legal misconduct while prosecuting a rape case, spent six months in jail for contempt of a federal court, and saw his law license revoked in 2003.

Democratic Delegate Joseph Morrissey brought the rifle to the floor of the House of Delegates to demonstrate how easy it is to carry firearms in Virginia. Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert interrupted Morrissey’s speech to ask him to remove his finger from inside the gun’s trigger-guard — a basic gun-safety practice.

“I don’t think you should be able to possess an assault rifle,” Morrissey told ABC News on Friday.

But while Morrissey introduced a gun-control bill Thursday aimed at reducing criminal violence in Virginia, he has a history that involves physical violence of another kind. (RELATED: Politician responsible for brutal assault may run for Va. attorney general)

Morrissey paid a man $500,000 in 2007 to settle a 2002 court judgment against him, related to a 1999 physical assault.

According to legal brief filed by the victim’s attorneys, Morrissey shouted, “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to beat your head in,” before beating the victim and “smash[ing] his head into the corner of a brick wall.”

The 2003 revocation of Morrissey’s law license followed that courtroom reckoning, but by then his disciplinary record in the legal profession was already a lengthy one.

After he applied for the reinstatement of his law license, the Virginia State Bar listed a litany of Morrissey’s misdeeds when it published his petition.

That list included the December 1993 suspension of Morrissey’s law license for six months following a complaint from a rape victim in a case he prosecuted. Morrissey, she said, allowed her rapist to plea-bargain his case down to a misdemeanor after his father paid $50,000 — half to the victim and the other half to charities Morrissey chose. She also testified that Morrissey hid the details of the plea-bargain from her.

The bar had already sanctioned Morrissey in June of that year when it learned of his misconduct in a felony drunk-driving case. Without asking the court’s permission, Morrissey issued a new arrest warrant with a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless driving. He was required to write a formal letter of apology to the judge.

By that time, the bar was accustomed to hearing about Morrissey.