Alex Harper / Louis Goodman Podcast Transcript
Hello and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
He served as a combat advisor in Khost, Afghanistan. He served on the United States Naval Aircraft Carrier, he studied Strategy and War at the Naval War College. He is a former Company Commander, a Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. He is admitted to practice in both California and Texas. He has served as a Deputy District Attorney and has litigated extensively on both sides of the criminal courts. And he has a family with young children. Alex Harper, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Alex Harper: Well, thank you. It’s very nice to be here.
Louis Goodman: Well, you have certainly served your country in many capacities. Currently, you are living where?
Alex Harper 1:10
I’m currently living in Frisco, Texas, which is just a little north of Dallas. So as a suburb of Dallas,
Louis Goodman 1:18
And it’s okay to call Frisco Texas, Frisco. I take it.
Alex Harper 1:21
It is not nearly the mortal sin, it would be referring to the city very near you by that word.
Louis Goodman 1:27
I’ve always been interested in talking to you for the podcast, because I met you, oh, I don’t know, I guess, a couple of years before the whole COVID thing hit. And you were doing some kind of serious criminal litigation in Oakland. And I found out about your background in the military. Yes. So first of all, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your background even before then, like where are you from originally?
Alex Harper 2:00
So yes, I’m from a little bit of all over. My dad was a fighter pilot in the Air Force. And my mom was sort of a free range hippie, I guess. So they split up. Well, my dad was in Vietnam, and I went back and forth between the two of them. So by the time I graduated from Junior High, I had I think Junior High was about my 14th or 15th school.
Louis goodman: Wow.
Alex Harper: And so a lot of that was in the Midwest in North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, New Mexico all over the place. But I went to high school and a lot of that was in places like Camarino and Oxnard and but I went to high school all four years in Santa Barbara. So
Santa Barbara is one of the two places I consider my hometown, the other being, you know, Berkeley where I spent more time than anyplace else after when I was attending school.
Louis Goodman: So being four years in Santa Barbara, that was really quite the settle down for you.
Alex Harper: Big time, I’d never experienced anything like that I spend most of my life being jealous of kids who have been around a year or two in the same place. And I feel like I really rooted in Santa Barbara.
Louis Goodman: And how was the high school experience for you. What did you do there, anything besides studying Algebra in American History?
Alex Harper: I very nearly got busted a whole bunch of times. I was one of those kids whokind of sailed through the AP and GT classes with real high marks. I was a National Merit Scholar semifinalist and all that sort of thing, but I probably more often than not, I wasn’t even in school. So I was a functional delinquent, I guess would be the way to put it.
Louis Goodman 3:36
Now, after you functionally delinquent did your way out of Santa Barbara, I take it you graduated?
Alex Harper: I did.
Louis Goodman: Where’d you go to college?
Alex Harper 3:44
I went to UC Berkeley. And to tell you the truth, I have no idea how I snowed them into let me but I was surprised as a lot of my peers or that I made it in. But you know, a good solid SAT score isn’t that and I guess that was enough to carry the day. But yeah, so I’m going to Berkeley for about a year before very nearly dropped out. And I just realized that a lack of vision, I had no idea why I was going there other than I thought I was supposed to. And after Organic Chemistry, I realized there was a difference between aptitude and interest. So I withdrew and I went back to Santa Barbara City College, which is probably just about the greatest city college it’s ever existed. And it went from being this anonymous person in this sea of underclassmen to you know someone who was on a first name basis with my Professors and I developed a real interest in learning at that point. I really became interested in not only learning but being challenged while doing it, and so I spent three semesters there didn’t get an Associate’s Degree or anything like that. I just went back to Berkeley and did some work there. And it’s somewhere in between. I went to a semester abroad and Chandon University in gene on China.
Louis Goodman: So sort of that in these Central Eastern China.
Alex Harper: Yes.
Louis Goodman 5:02
Did you enjoy that?
Alex Harper 5:04
I loved it. That’s really when I made that transition from thinking I needed to be some sort of scientist or something like that or be a doctor to be happy, to realizing I really actually enjoyed, you know, people in human endeavors. And that’s I switched over to Political Science and ended up graduating from Berkeley with a degree in Political Science and East Asian Studies.
Louis Goodman 5:28
What did you do after you graduated from Cal?
Alex Harper 5:32
So when I graduated, I was kind of conflicted as to what I was going to do. So I took the, I’d actually gone to join the Marine Corps after my junior year at Cal, and went through Officer Candidate School with the Marines and through what they call the Platoon Leadership Class Program, where you’d go your junior year, and then you finish your degree and then get your Marine Corps Commission and continue on. I ended up being a Logistician and ended up being stationed on an aircraft carrier for three years.
Louis Goodman 6:04
And what carrier was that?
Alex Harper 6:06
It was the Dwight D. Eisenhower out of Norfolk, Virginia. So I was I went through OCS, and Flight Training in Pensacola, then went through Logistics Training in Athens, Georgia, and then got assigned to Eisenhower, in gosh, I guess that would have been 1998 I guess, in Norfolk, Virginia. We went on the did one Persian Gulf cruise with them in 2000. And we got it was the last good cruise in the Navy. It was the battle cruise that replaced us had a ship in it called the USS Cole, which was attacked, and that ended Liberty ports, I guess from then till now. But when we went we, you know, we got to go to eight or 10 ports of call and just had a ball all over Europe in the Middle East in that but with only minimal combat operations. So it was a good time. Yes.
Louis Goodman 7:02
Well, speaking of combat operations, you actually did serve in combat in the military. Is that correct?
Alex Harper 7:11
I did, I was actually once I was outside of the flight Regiment, I was no longer a what they call a line officer. I wasn’t a combat guy anymore. But they actually graduate or this was after I’d gone to law school and become an attorney up District Attorney in Kern County, and I’ve been there for about a year and a half. When I got a call saying, hey, Commander Harper, I was a Lieutenant Commander at the time. So hey, Commander Harper, have you ever been deployed? And I told the guy on the other end I said I don’t know. But something tells me my answers but change so they tried to send me off to what to Iraq at the time to replace someone who had been who we had lost and an attack on the Bogra International International Airport. Couple people, way above my pay grade, gotten a fight and it ended up me being sent to Afghanistan later that year. So I was in Khost, Afghanistan, which at the time, I guess laymen who don’t know the area but have seen any of the movies about the area about the capture of Osama bin Laden and that we were very close neighbors to the CIA base that was attacked that’s depicted in that movie Zero Dark 30 but it was a real dicey place to be. It was wild wild west for sure. So definitely did see some some combat ish stuff there. I ended up despite the fact that I was a Logistics Officer embedded with the Afghan Army to advise them on logistics. There was no advising the Afghan Army on logistics at what just wasn’t gonna happen. So I ended up being a turret gunner in logistics convoys across Khost province.
Louis Goodman: You were wounded?
Alex Harper: Well, I was in the middle of some attacks and got my bell rung and was exposed to some pretty nasty stuff. But I was I didn’t get it like an open bleeding wound kind of thing. But yeah, I was in the middle of a suicide car bomb and a bunch of artillery rocket attacks. So yeah, there was a good times were had by all.
Louis Goodman 9:16
You’ve had a lot of education at this point, you’d been in the military what made you decide to go to law school?
Alex Harper 9:25
When I graduated or when I was getting ready to graduate from Cal, I had taken the Barbary Course, it’s not Barbary, what is it? Kaplan course to study for the L SAT. And I don’t know why I was doing that other than I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do after this. And it was at that point that I said, Well, I can go to law school, or I can go fly planes for the military, which, in my mind, you had two things you could do in life, you could be a doctor or a fighter pilot, and anything else would just be laying there so at the time, and I figured well, I can be a lawyer later, but I can’t fly later. So I pursued that Navy thing first. And when I got out of the Navy, because I had ended up going into this logistics pipeline that didn’t feel like a long term fit for me, I had already taken the L SATs, I had gotten an exceptionally good score. And I just started throwing out applications while I was still on active duty. And, so I ended up just kind of sort of just sort of defaulting into law school. I guess I didn’t have any great big vision as to what I wanted to do with a law degree or anything like that. And my kind of passion for criminal law only came along by act after I had, I’ve worked in family. I’ve done a Family Law Clinic and in Florida at law school, and then I’ve gone on to getting a job at a really nice, boutique firm in Santa Barbara. But it was one of those things where, until you had seven or eight years under your belt, there was no way they were going to let you go to court with one of their clients as the lead. So I ended up getting out of that and practicing very briefly in Monterey. And again, just kind of didn’t like the civil thing. So I thought, well, I’ll go get some trial experience. And that’s when I went to the DA’s office in Kern County. I interviewed at several different DA offices and got a pretty good offer from them.
Louis Goodman 11:20
So let me let me just back up for just a minute.
Alex Harper: Sure.
Louis Goodman: What law school did you go to?
Alex Harper: University of Florida?
Louis Goodman: And that was just a function of where’s that located in Florida?
Alex Harper 11:34
In Gainesville? So that would be kind of in the center of the upper third of sort of the peninsula parts of Florida very separate from Florida State, which is often the panhandle.
Louis Goodman 11:48
No, I know, I interviewed another attorney for this podcast who had gone to Florida State and she wanted to make sure that I didn’t mix them up either.
Alex Harper 11:58
Yeah, right. She was he didn’t want to get too much credit. So being a Gator is not a special thing.
Louis Goodman 12:04
So let me just get this out. You are in fact a gator. Is that correct?
Alex Harper: I am a gator? Yes.
Louis Goodman: How did you end up going to the District Attorney’s Office?
Alex Harper 12:14
What I really wanted to do was do trials. And I didn’t know that I particularly wanted criminal law. But I wanted to be doing trials right now. So I joined the DA’s office in Kern County, which is if you want to be a prosecutor, that’s a great place to be a prosecutor. So I’ll put it this way. I didn’t know how good I had it as a prosecutor that I managed to mistake a community that was very prosecution minded with me having some kind of great skill.
Louis Goodman 12:41
Yeah, I’ve made that mistake too, even here in Alameda County.
Alex Harper 12:44
And you know, that’s the beginning of that realization about how much you versus involved in the whole system. But I realized I really liked criminal law. And after a while, I also realized I really had some problems with being on, the not all the time, but sometimes being on the prosecution side. There were some things that just weren’t resonating well with me, you know, especially when you’re kind of going out after work and partying with cops and all that sort of thing. And at some of the attitudes that would come out from time to time. And I’m not saying across the board, it was just an every now and then thing. And I really started to feel a pULL for criminal defense work where I felt that you were working for you. There was just a lot more on the line on the defense side.
Louis Goodman 13:26
How did you happen to come up to Alameda County?
Alex Harper 13:29
Well, Alameda County was my second home and it kind of almost surpassed Santa Barbara, got my paralegal certificate through UC extension. Right as I graduated from Berkeley, so I had a lot of roots there. And it was just a matter of realizing that Yeah, I can afford to be there. And I’m making that leap. You know, making that leap from having a paycheck to being a sole practitioner and having to make it work on your own. It can be a scary leap.
Louis Goodman 13:56
What do you like about practicing law?
Alex Harper 13:58
Law in general, I don’t know if I would like doing a lot of civil stuff. But what I do like about practicing criminal law is every single day, you have a real good chance to get your hair blown back by a story that you just can’t believe and that everything is a challenge. So every single case that somebody says, Oh, it’s one of these, oh, it’s just a, it’s a simple possession for sale case. And if you’re doing your job right, nothing should be a simple, blankety blank case, everything is so individualized. And that’s where the challenge lies in humanizing your client for a jury or for a judge, or for a DA who’s just licking his chops to you know, add another notch in their belt. It’s high stakes, and it’s, if you’re doing your job right, it should be challenging and, you know, I hear a lot of people say that, you know, you can’t just go and wander around as a defense attorney, right? It’s not true. You can, but you’re not doing anybody any favors. If you’re doing it right. It should be hard. And I liked that.
Louis Goodman 15:10
Would you recommend the law to a young person thinking about it as a career choice?
Alex Harper 15:15
If they had, if it was someone who had the aptitude, such that it was a viable option, and they knew why they wanted to get into the law, then? Sure, I would if in criminal law, whether it’s defense or prosecution, I think you have to have a reason for wanting to do it that transcends making and if they have that, if they have that desire to make a difference, that desire to help people, whether it be victims or defendants, and that desire supersedes career progression and an a paycheck, then yes, if they see it as a career, not a job.
Louis Goodman 15:53
What about the military as a career? What do you think about that as a recommendation to a young person?
Alex Harper 15:59
I think the military is a fantastic thing, especially for people who come from non diverse backgrounds. I think it’s an incredibly eye opening experience. And I’m talking about on the enlisted side. So kids coming out of high school or whatever, especially kids who feel, and there’s so many of them all across, you know, in every segment of society, that people who just feel like they are planted in their neighborhood. And that’s all that there is. I think it’s a huge eye opening experience. And it really opens people up to seeing what a true meritocracy is, in my experience in working in the military. Absolutely somebodies ability and willingness to do the hard work transcended their appearance and their background. And, I think people really learn to value people for who they are as an individual, as opposed to what they look like or what they come from. And in that regard, absolutely. And as an officer, it’s pretty darn nice to come out of college and have that solid of a job that demands that you learn and practice leadership. And for those reasons, I would absolutely recommend the military. So you know, and obviously, there’s certain things that you can do in the military, you just simply can’t do anywhere else. So you know, if you want to go fly an airplane to do crazy, awesome stuff like that, yeah, go to the military, even if your end goal is to be an airline pilot, go to the military, it’s a lot more fun, you get to do things that nobody else gets to do. And you get to actually help our country while you’re doing.
Louis Goodman 17:38
Let me get back to law for a minute, and how is actually practicing either met or different from your expectations about it?
Alex Harper 17:45
I had no idea when I went to law school, first of all, that you could just that I didn’t realize that a bar card was a ticket to go make the living you want to make. So if you want to forego creature comforts, and just get down in the pits, and help the disenfranchised, if that’s what your gig is, you can do that. If what you want to do is build up of a law firm and provide a very comfortable living for your family, you can do that. What I didn’t realize is you are not beholden to somebody giving you a paycheck. And I didn’t quite realize that going in and the amount of freedom you can have, too. Now given it’s a weird kind of freedom, right? So if you if you’re going and working for yourself, man, that’s hard work. And it takes up all your time. And there’s no, in my case, anyway, I had a hard time compartmentalizing sometimes when I was done working for the day, and I was driving home. A lot of times, that’s what I was still thinking about when I’m trying to go to sleep and relax at night. I’m still thinking, Oh, man, maybe I should be working on this case. It’s really hard to put it away. Yeah. But you know, there, you’re on vacation, and you can’t stop thinking about that client of yours that’s sitting in the can. And I guess I didn’t realize what an adventure it would be. I didn’t realize how just vivid and alive the practice of criminal defense or criminal prosecution would be. I really thought it would be, you know, a lot more institutional and gray. But it’s not it’s an incredibly vibrant thing to be involved in then the camaraderie of sitting in court, you know, what, when you go into a judge’s chambers, and in the morning and everybody’s there, and it gets kind of exciting to see what your colleagues are going to be there and what they’re talking about. And it’s amazing. It’s just such an amazing community that you’re exposed to. And I didn’t anticipate that I really had images of cubicles and offices and you know, late hours and you know, hard drinking, corporate guys or something. And then that that hasn’t been my experience at all.
Louis Goodman 20:02
Is there anything that you know now that you really wished you knew before you started practicing?
Alex Harper 20:07
I think I wish I had known more about kinds of law, especially criminal law, you know, criminal laws. Such a is so different. I think, you know, most judges that have switched assignments between criminal and civil tell you that it’s just night and day, and I wish I’d realized the camaraderie and the civility of criminal practice going in, you know, Family Law to me was so uncivil it was, you know, just angry and mean and over the top and I had no idea that when you’re going into criminal law, that it would be this civil. That we on each side of the bench would treat each other this well, and I kind of wish I had known about that.
Louis Goodman 20:47
What do you think is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Alex Harper 20:50
Oddly enough, it was something that my dad had mentioned to me. My dad was talking about being in Vietnam. And when he first got in there, and when they were going on these combat flights, his compatriot finally sat him down and said, Hey, you need to accept that the worst is going to happen. Just accept that you’re going to die over here. And everything else gets easier. As morbid as that was that helped me when I was in Afghanistan, but it helps a lot in court as well. Oddly enough, when I’m going into, say, a murder trial, and I’m so afraid of screwing something up and losing the trial, or my client going to prison, all that just accepting the worst might happen, but then working really hard to make sure that that’s not what happens. But to set aside sort of the fear and the trepidation that goes with it, compartmentalize and do the job.
Louis Goodman 21:45
Do you think the legal system is fair?
Alex Harper 21:47
No, I don’t. I think that there have been so many instances of demonstrable unfairness that that it would be silly to say it’s not and I don’t think a lot of these cases that have come out in an unfair way have were outliers. I think it’s very common. I think the system needs a major comprehensive overhaul to get rid of the vestiges we have of racial discrimination. Especially I mean, that’s, that, to me, is the crux of the unfairness of the system right there.
Louis Goodman 22:23
Let me switch gears here for a minute. What’s your family life like and how is practicing law affected that?
Alex Harper 22:29
Interestingly, I’ve had, I was a prosecutor up until and while my kids were toddlers. And then I moved to the Bay Area, and I was living in the East Bay there. And while they were getting older, but because I was a sole practitioner, I was able to really divide my time up a bit. I’ve ended up with a lot of flexibility to be there with my kids. And that’s incredibly important. My wife is an ER nurse at a trauma center there in the Bay Area. And she works fairly unconventional schedules, and we were able to work around each other a lot better.
Louis Goodman 23:04
Obviously, you are admitted in California, and you recently moved to Texas, right? What was the process of getting admitted in Texas?
Alex Harper: Like it was really, surprisingly easy.
Louis Goodman: So someone is an attorney in California, and they want to go practice in Texas? Yes, all they have to do is they have to establish residency.
Alex Harper: No, don’t have to do that at all. You just have to apply and pass the background check and wait 270 days and you’ll be a lawyer in Texas.
As long as they don’t find its own mental find out about what you did with that Motorcycle Club.
Alex Harper: Yeah.
Louis Goodman 23:46
All right. Well, now that you’ve brought up the motorcycle club, and I know you ride motorcycles, any other recreational pursuits that you enjoy.
Alex Harper 23:56
So my, my biggest one is the motorcycling I do very long distance motorcycle riding. And to me that’s great. A great escape and then therapy from the practice of law. So I do really long rides like I’ve got a motorcycle setup to where I did, I rode to all 48 contiguous states in 10 days. And then I like going around and screwing around with my kids with playing Legos or making model rockets forum or anything like that. And when I have time, I like to spend a little bit of time doing woodworking in that building, building bits of furniture and all that mostly just experimenting with how to build something new.
Louis Goodman 24:36
What keeps you up at night?
Alex Harper 24:37
I have three daughters, and between 9 and 11 years old. I really just worried about what the future holds for our country and wondering if we’ve lost something awfully special in terms of our ability to tolerate each other over the last several years.
Louis Goodman 24:54
Let’s say you came into some real money, $3 or $4 billion, what if anything would you do differently in your life?
Alex Harper 25:01
I would figure out a very, very solid way to pull resources together to help people see each other, people see the need for equal treatment of people, for people to be to have equal opportunity. When I was in Afghanistan, there were kids who were basically, who had nothing who were destitute, who were approached by Taliban folks and said, Hey, here’s $30, which is more money than your parents are going to make this entire year. Here’s a rifle, I just want you to go out and take one pot shot that those Americans driving by. And that’s a lot of what the fire we took was just a kid taking a shot at us dropping the rifle and run away. And, you know, we at the time, we hated those kids and when we wanted to visit great violence upon them, but it’s in there, but by the grace of God go I it was, there was no difference between that kid and me. And I think making doing something without money to make people understand that. And second of all, I also ride my motorcycle around the world in every direction possible.
Louis Goodman 26:09
Alex Harper, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Alex Harper 26:17
It’s absolutely been a pleasure to be here. I am flattered that you thought of me as somebody to engage with this and thank you.
Louis Goodman 26:25
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend. And subscribe to the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at Lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always to my guests to share their wisdom and to Joel Katz, Ryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman
Alex Harper 27:10
So I graduated from Cal I kind of bummed around just a little bit. I wasn’t sure I was going to take the Navy thing up. So I started taking flight lessons out at Buchanan field in Concord. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with students. I spent most of my time with motorcycle riders, bikers and that and up in the Berkeley hills and out of Cirrus point racetrack and all that sort of thing.