HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – The son of a Virginia Supreme Court justice appeared in court for the first time Friday morning to face a charge of armed robbery.
23-year-old Leroy Hassell Junior is accused of forcing his way inside a Henrico home and robbing the man inside at gunpoint. Today, a retired Chesterfield judge, Robert Laney, was brought in to preside over the case. The reason why is because judges in Henrico, where the alleged crime took place, disqualified themselves.
The disqualification is likely out of caution -- sort of a way to help ensure that Hassell isn't treated more harshly or favorable than anyone else. Hassell's father is the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.
"The rationale is that a retired judge, not being employed as a full time judge, has every appearance of being more objective and neutral in tribunal. It was the duty of the Virginia Supreme Court to designate a judge to preside over the hearing. The father of the accused did not participate in that decision," said Hassell's attorney, Steve Benjamin.
Benjamin could not comment specifically on the case but says Henrico Judges made the right decision by disqualifying themselves.
"Judges are always concerned about the appearance of favoritism and about maintaining public confidence in the system. Hassell will be treated like anyone else," said Benjamin.
Police say Hassell and another person forced their way inside a home in the 2100 block of Libbie Avenue this past Monday. Once inside the victim says the two armed men robbed and beat him.
"They took me around my house, started looking for some random stuff and asked me where I kept money and such like that," said Chong Mounce.
Hassell appeared by video for his arraignment hearing. It lasted less than 5 minutes. Hassell is next scheduled to appear in General District Court in Henrico in September. That retired Chesterfield judge will preside over the hearing.
After that point the case will likely move to Circuit Court in Henrico -- where judges there will decide whether to disqualify themselves from the case. Hassell is being held at the Henrico County Jail. He's charged with armed robbery and use of a fireman in the commission of a felony.