A local building contractor claims that dogs attacked him at attorney Joe Morrissey's home in Varina last summer while he was looking into doing some work there. Contractor Ricky Johnson of Highland Springs says he wants at least $150,000 from Morrissey for lost income, medical expenses, and pain and suffering resulting from the attack, which occurred Aug. 3 while Morrissey was in jail for contempt of court and awaiting trial for the July assault of contractor Garien Wycoff. Johnson says he hasn't gone public with the story until now because Morrissey's associates told Johnson he would be compensated and asked him not to do anything that would make Morrissey look bad before the Wycoff trial. Johnson says he now thinks Morrissey is trying to get out of what Johnson had thought of as a "gentlemen's agreement." Morrissey, whose license to practice law was suspended for three years in December, did not return calls for comment. However, attorney J. Paul Gregorio, a former Morrissey associate, says he spoke with Johnson after the incident to tell him Morrissey was sorry about it and, while not admitting liability, wanted to help pay for his injuries. "We were just extending our hand to him," Gregorio says. "This was horrible [that] this happened to him." But, Gregorio adds, when Johnson wrote the law firm in October saying he wanted $45,000, mostly for unsubstantiated business losses incurred while he recovered from the attack, Morrissey balked. "I will sign any release of liability and continue to keep silent to the public regarding this claim," Johnson wrote in his Oct. 11 letter. He says his losses have mounted since then and are at least $100,000, but he has declined to file a lawsuit because his religious beliefs discourage it. Gregorio says he left Morrissey's firm amicably Nov. 1 and that the Johnson matter apparently was turned over to Morrissey's insurer, Safeco Insurance, to try to work out a deal with Johnson. Cheryl Bell of Safeco would not comment on the matter, but Johnson says she wants his forthcoming 1999 tax returns to estimate his losses. In recounting the attack, Johnson says he went to Morrissey's home Aug. 3 at the request of Morrissey's gardener, Kenny King, to look into doing work on Morrissey's boat house and other areas of his property. Johnson says King told him on the telephone that there were several dogs, including pit bull-type mixes, on the property, but that they were friendly and Johnson should not worry about them. Johnson says that he saw some of the dogs when he arrived and petted them, but some time later they and another dog suddenly attacked him while he was speaking with a neighbor. According to Johnson and the neighbor, Myrtle Cogbill, some of the dogs pulled him to the ground and dragged him around while repeatedly biting his legs and arms. (Johnson has photographs showing what appear to be severe dog bites, and he claims a bone in his left ankle was chipped in the attack.) Johnson and Cogbill say the dogs tore most of his clothing off before he was able to escape them by climbing into a tree. "I don't doubt that he got bit," Gregorio says. But, he and Cogbill say, the dogs that bit Johnson were not Morrissey's but King's. "I know one of the dogs belonged to Joe [but] that's not the dog that bit him," Gregorio says. King could not be reached for comment. Cogbill says she thinks King's dogs may have attacked Johnson because they were being protective of her. Cogbill is elderly and gets around her neighborhood with a golf cart she says Morrissey whom she calls "the best neighbor I've ever had" gave her. Cogbill says she was stunned and horrified by the attack, but managed to get back into her home and call 911. "How could I forget?" she says of the dogs' attack on Johnson. "I used to pet them all the time. It's like you have children and they go bad." She and Johnson say that firefighters, a Henrico County police officer and a county Animal Protection unit officer arrived on the scene and that the firefighters chased the dogs away from beneath Johnson's perch in the tree. (Sgt. Joe Morris of the Henrico County Police says there is no police report of the incident. It could not be determined by press time if Animal Protection or fire reports exist.) Johnson says he is going public about the alleged incident now in the hope that doing so will expedite a resolution of his claim in time to save his firm from bankruptcy. He says his former employees have left, and he also has suffered from ongoing pain, nightmares and loss of sleep since the attack. Attorney Ted Galanides says he has advised Johnson in the matter, but thinks Johnson will have to decide soon whether his religious beliefs against lawsuits outweigh saving the company he built over 15 years and which is now, essentially,
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