Judge throws out restraining orders against Sen. Joe Morrissey over radio broadcast explosion
A Republican delegate and a Democratic senator huddled in the corner of a courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, trying to figure out what was said on a garbled audio recording that captured some of the swear words thrown during an altercation stormy last month at a radio studio in Richmond.
“Is, ‘I’m gonna f**king you down’?” Del asked. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, an attorney who represented two radio producers seeking restraining orders against Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond.
As a judge watched, Morrissey admitted he had said “Get the f**k out of my office” and called the station manager a “fat pig f**king”.
“At no time did I say ‘I’m going to kick your ass,'” Morrissey insisted on the stand, contradicting testimony from radio workers, who said the explosion at Morrissey’s studio on May 4 raised fears for their safety.
After a hearing that lasted more than four hours, retired Arlington County Judge Thomas Kelley Jr. dismissed preliminary restraining orders that had been granted against Morrissey over the studio incident, leaving Morrissey free to continue reporting to the South Richmond building which houses both the radio station and its Senate District office.
In an interview afterwards, the senator said that being Joe Morrissey often means “you have a target on your back”. But he said he prevailed because “several observers” supported his side of the story.
at the very least is designed to generate controversy.
“The court is in a position to consider what happened,” Kelley said, stressing that he had to consider Morrissey’s comment as part of a larger incident.
Last month’s incident happened in the middle of a live broadcast episode of the “Fighting Joe Morrissey Show” on WJFN Radio, the network operated by conservative commentator John Fredericks. The show’s branding evokes Morrissey’s combative tendencies, featuring boxing gloves on his logo and incorporating the theme song “Rocky”.
After newly hired producer David Pascoe pressed Morrissey on his stance on abortion rights and the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade, Morrissey went after Pascoe and station manager Derek Clark. The episode has since been deleted from the show’s Facebook page, but the video showed a visibly angry Morrissey yelling at off-screen colleagues and his legislative aide at one point grabbing his arm to try and pull him away.
“We have seen the lack of consistency from Mr. Morrissey. Enough is a threat,” Anderson said, adding that the two men who filed the complaints against Morrissey were raising legitimate “red flags” about disturbing behavior.
The judge rejected a request by Morrissey’s lawyer, James Maloney, to collect attorney’s fees from the plaintiffs, saying he believed there was at least some validity to their claims even if they were legally insufficient .
During Tuesday’s hearing at the Richmond courthouse, Morrissey and his attorney called the incident a raucous workplace reprimand from a new recruit that was “undermining” the show’s star. Morrissey likened the incident to “an underling telling Tom Brady” how to play quarterback. Pascoe said Morrissey threatened to “ruin” and “destroy” him, but Morrissey denied making the remarks.
“Words never left my mouth,” the senator said on the stand.
The outburst happened on the first day Pascoe worked on Morrissey’s show. While Pascoe claimed there had been an agreement between Morrissey and himself to have a live debate, Morrissey said he was surprised by Pascoe’s unexpected interjections.
As someone who had just moved to the area but was aware of Morrissey’s disease turbulent historywhich includes a 1991 courthouse brawl when Morrissey was Richmond’s lead prosecutor, Pascoe said he ‘sat there in dismay’ watching a state senator burst after being asked a political question .
“I’ve never seen anyone in a professional setting act like that before…I left the studio because I didn’t feel safe,” Pascoe said.
The judge quickly dismissed Pascoe’s request for a restraining order, but allowed further consideration of Clark’s request since both producers claimed that Morrissey had made more direct verbal threats to Clark.
Clark said he called the police at the studio after an incident he said could constitute an assault. But after police said he would have to take further action to try to press charges against Morrissey, he opted to wait and seek advice from lawyers and his employer. He and Pascoe finally filed for preliminary restraining orders on May 20. The station also briefly called in armed security guards for protection, according to court testimony. Morrissey called the presence of the guards “bizarre”.
Many of the arguments presented in court relied on video and audio recording evidence of the altercation, including the clip from the Facebook Live stream that was being broadcast at the time, as well as recordings captured by a reporter present outside. from the studio. Both parties agreed that the speech in question was at times “inaudible” and that the video recording did not fully capture what happened.
The dispute also centered on who got up from their chair first and who moved farthest around the desk to confront the other person. Morrissey initially chastised Pascoe for suggesting that the senator supported overthrowing Roe “in a roundabout way”, but turned his anger on Clark after Clark told Morrissey that his behavior towards Pascoe was irrelevant.
Morrissey’s lawyer acknowledged the senator used ‘colorful language’ and said the episode may show an unharmonious workplace, but argued there was no serious threat of violence because Morrissey had never touched the two men even though they were only separated by a desk.
“There was nothing stopping Mr. Morrissey from doing any kind of aggressive behavior he wanted,” Maloney said.
Clark testified that he stepped in to defend an employee who was being reprimanded and calm the situation.
“I was scared,” Clark said. “I thought he was going to hit me”
But Morrissey and a witness called by Morrissey’s side, whose testimony the judge found not to be credible, insisted it was Clark and Pascoe who had been the attackers.
“It looked like Morrissey was about to get beat up by two guys,” said Tiffany Wilson, who testified that she was in the studio that day with a guest to interview in a later segment.
Morrissey and Wilson both claimed the aide who grabbed Morrissey by the arm tried to drag the senator out of the studio to prepare for the upcoming interview, but Anderson argued it didn’t make sense that the show’s host leaves the room during a brief commercial break.
Wilson said she did not watch the video of the incident she testified to.
Two other people at the radio station that day, a receptionist and a man who works for Morrissey’s jury consulting firm, testified that they had never heard Morrissey make any threats, although both admitted that they had not seen or heard the whole incident.
Morrissey’s team tried to argue that a height difference between Morrissey and Clark meant Clark had no reason to feel intimidated, but the judge said he felt physical stature was not relevant.
“A little person can be intimidating,” Kelley said. “A big person can’t be intimidating.”
After the hearing, Anderson said his clients would consider appealing.
“It’s an unfortunate circumstance that we all had to go through this,” he said.
After denying under oath threatening Clark, Morrissey expressed no remorse for the incident as he spoke to reporters in the hallway of a courtroom.
“If a 350-pound bully falls in my face…yes, I’ll knock him down,” Morrissey said.