Gun Laws & Legislation

Anti-gun, AK-47-waving legislator was denied law license in Australia after Virginia license was revoked

Photo of David Martosko
David Martosko
Executive Editor

Virginia Democratic Delegate Joseph Morrissey, who brandished an AK-47 during an anti-gun speech before the state legislature on Jan. 17, was denied a license to practice law by an Australian state supreme court in 2006, five years after a U.S. federal court disbarred him and three years after the Virginia Bar Association revoked his law license.

The New South Wales Bar Association included an article about Morrissey in its 2006 annual report. “The court found Mr Morrissey is not a fit and proper person to be admitted as a legal practitioner,” the article noted, “and that his character is marked by wilful disobedience of court orders and rules, episodes of violence and a failure to make appropriate disclosure and a lack of candour when dealing with colleagues.”

According to Morrissey’s official Virginia Legislature biography, he “taught law school for five years in both Ireland and Australia.” but the Sydney Morning Herald reported in April 2006 that he lectured at the University of New South Wales and the University of Adelaide “without disclosing his record.”

That record included disbarment, a 1999 assault during which he threatened to kill his victim, jail time for contempt of a federal court and lying to his probation officer, and sanctions for legal misconduct while prosecuting a rape case. (RELATED: Anti-gun Va. lawmaker who brandished AK-47 in legislature was disbarred after brutal 1999 assault)

In 2005 Morrissey was close to obtaining a job in the office of the Legal Practitioners Admission Board in the Australian state of New South Wales — an organization roughly equivalent to a U.S. state’s bar association. He was to run a mentoring program for the state’s 100 prosecutors.

But James Bennett, the organization’s senior counsel, and senior prosecutor Mark Tedeschi emerged red-faced after reports about Morrissey’s past began circulating in their offices.

In August 2005, Tedeschi sent an email to his staff. “Mr. Joe Morrissey is no longer a mentor in our advocacy development program,” it read.

Nicholas Cowdery, then the director of public prosecutions for New South Wales, told The Sydney Morning Herald in a front-page article that “Appropriate inquiries were made before [Mr Morrissey] was engaged and … [his] disbarments were not reported.”

In an affidavit to the New South Wales Supreme Court, Tedeschi would later write that Morrissey gave him “some vague reason[s] about wanting to do other things and see the world” instead of remaining in the U.S. “On no occasion did he mention to me that he had been disbarred in the United States.”

In a letter to the court, Bennett said Morrissey’s concealment of his past was “an integral component of a false pretence that there was nothing in his background that might detract from the perception of good fame and character. … For an extended period he represented his history to be that of a successful lawyer from Virginia who had traveled from that place to extend his legal experience and explore new opportunities.”