Greene County’s top prosecutor has been tapped to be special prosecutor in two cases in Chesterfield County.
The first case Greene County Commonwealth Attorney Matthew Hardin will oversee involves Joe “Fighting Joe” Morrissey, a former Virginia House of Delegates member and a lawyer in that region.
“The Commonwealth’s Attorney for the County of Chesterfield and his assistants have disqualified themselves because the defendant is a regularly practicing attorney in this jurisdiction,” according to the motion.
Morrissey is charged with trespassing after forbidden to do so, according to Chesterfield County General District Court. He is expected to be in court on Sept. 19.
Morrissey has had been in trouble with the law previously when in 1991 as Richmond’s commonwealth attorney he punched a defense attorney—perhaps where his nickname “Fightin’ Joe” originated. In 1999 he got into a fist fight with a contractor. His law license has been revoked twice, though he’s appealing the current revocation. In 2014 he was forced to resign from the House of Delegates after he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 17-year-old who worked in his office. He has since married her.
The second case involves one or more juveniles and the office disqualified itself because of a conflict with the victim. No other information is available about that case.
Hardin said it’s routine to have special prosecutors in our system of justice, but usually it’s from a surrounding jurisdiction.
“In our system of justice we need a fair trial and when a local prosecutor knows the victim too well or the defendant too well it makes people think there’s an appearance of impropriety. In those circumstances we get someone from outside the county to come in and I think because of how high profile this particular defendant is that’s why they came out so far as Greene,” Hardin said.
He said it won’t take away from his responsibilities in Greene, and that Greene County has utilized special prosecutors from other jurisdictions in cases of conflict, currently in the case against Commission of Revenue Larry Snow.
“It is a duty that we have to do but I think that it’s to make everybody’s trials fairer. We do have special prosecutors on some cases here in Greene, where my former clients are being prosecuted for example, so it probably all comes out in the wash,” he said. “It’s not just a fair trial issue. The system is supposed to work so that attorney client privilege is there and you can trust your lawyer. If your lawyer gets elected and starts prosecuting you that would be a really bad look.”