Gun Laws & Legislation

Anti-gun, AK-47-waving legislator was denied law license in Australia after Virginia license was revoked

David Martosko Executive Editor
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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.”

In handing down his decision that Morrissey would not be permitted to practice law in New South Wales, the state’s most senior judge wrote that “he is not a person in whom the bench and legal practitioners could repose their trust.”

Chief Judge Peter McClellan conceded that “Mr. Morrissey is a talented and effective advocate” and  “an extraordinarily gifted teacher.”

“However, I have after very careful consideration come to the view that he is ‘not a fit and proper person’ to be admitted as a legal practitioner. His character is marked by wilful disobedience of court orders and rules, episodes of violence, a failure to make appropriate disclosure and a lack of candour when dealing with his colleagues.

Morrissey became the center of attention when he brandished an AK-47 rifle during an anti-gun speech in the Virginia General Assembly last week. He has not responded to emails from The Daily Caller seeking comment about his professional history and his legal disciplinary record.

TheDC reported on Tuesday that Morrissey “lost or misplaced” two semiautomatic firearms that he borrowed from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. One of those weapons, an Israeli-made Uzi, was recovered in a storage locker rented by a heroin dealer. (RELATED: Joe Morrissey once “lost” 2 semi-automatic weapons police loaned him)

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

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