Joanne Alper, Retired Judge, 17th Judicial Circuit Court, Arlington, certified Mediator Supreme Court of Virginia, and trailblazer for women in the legal profession on private mediation in divorce cases ~
“But it’s still more humane than throwing it all up in front of a judge who’s a stranger. This way these people make their own decisions. So I’ve become a huge fan of the process.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town. I have greatest, greatest news for you that has … I hope you’re regular listeners because you’re gonna hear from a unique, wonderful, special individual and a very dear friend, who happens to be a sitting judge, but she doesn’t sit any more because she’s too busy now. But Joanne Alper is a legend in Northern Virginia legal cycle.
Joanne Alper: Thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: What do you think of that?
Joanne Alper: Well, that’s … I never thought of myself as a legend.
Andy Ockershausen: But you are. Think about it, Joanne. You’re a trailblazer. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be that way, but isn’t that not the way it’s happened?
Joanne Alper: To some extent, yes. As a woman lawyer starting out in the mid-70s, it was like being a trailblazer. There were very few of us. You could probably count on the fingers of one and a half hands how many women there were.
Andy Ockershausen: The only other female I ever knew in the law was Betty Thompson, who is a very dear friend of yours, I know.
Joanne Alper: Yes. Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: But you have a wonderful story about how you got started and we wanna hear that, but before that … I didn’t know you were born in Manhattan.
Joanne Alper: Born in Brooklyn, actually.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you were? But that’s part of New York City, of course.
Joanne Alper: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: A lot of people don’t realize it. They think it’s another world. But, Joanne, and your dad and mom are New Yorkers?
Joanne Alper: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: And you’re a native New Yorker? That’s a great song, incidentally.
Joanne Alper: I grew up in New York. I was a native New Yorker, but I’ve obviously lived a whole lot more of my life in Virginia than I ever lived in New York.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, we consider that Virginia’s . . . Our Town, you understand that, though?
Joanne Alper: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: So even it’s Arlington or Vienna, it’s Our Town. And Joanne, you’ve lived that in Long Island with your parents.
Joanne Alper: That’s right.
G.I. Bill Benefits, Baby Boomers, and Growing Up in Valley Stream
Andy Ockershausen: Your dad was in WWII, correct?
Joanne Alper: Yes. He was a veteran of World War II.
Andy Ockershausen: So he probably got the G.I. Bill?
Joanne Alper: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: When you think about it, you’re too young. Janice in the military. She’s too young. I lived through what the G.I. Bill meant to America. It was incredible.
Joanne Alper: It was. My dad-
Andy Ockershausen: It jump-started our country.
Joanne Alper: My dad grew up, his parents were immigrants from Russia. Came over in 1912 or ’13. He was born here. Some of his older siblings were born in Russia. But he, by getting the G.I. Bill and having the money, he could have gone to college, but he met my mother and wanted to get married. So he took the benefits he had after a few years of living …
When I was about three years old, they bought a house out on Long Island in a new development that everyone in the neighborhood were G.I.s who were doing the same thing. So we were all about the same age, all baby boomers, sort of growing up together.
Andy Ockershausen: Very even, correct? I mean, the whole neighborhood and the environment was even.
Joanne Alper: Exactly. It was amazing. In fact, as I said, we just had our 50th high school reunion two weeks ago, and just to see some of these people that I’ve known since Kindergarten. It was an amazing-
Andy Ockershausen: Because everybody stayed, right? Right through the generations.
Joanne Alper: People stayed. Very few people moved away. Obviously, since we’ve become adults, we’ve all gone our separate ways. We had somebody come from as far as San Francisco, Nicaragua, whatever.
Andy Ockershausen: Did you go back for that 50th?
Joanne Alper: I did. I did.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, that must have been incredible.
Joanne Alper: It was amazing. It really was. But it was a wonderful community to grow up in. It was the 50s and it wasn’t Leave It to Beaver idyllic, but when you look back at it now, and you look back at it, and you look back at what we did and how much fun we had and how little concern we had. The biggest concern in the 50s, we were worried about an atom bomb, so we had drills where we would duck under our desks because that would protect us from the atomic bomb.
Andy Ockershausen: Now they’re teaching them to go under their desks for shooters, for live shooters.
Joanne Alper: I know. I know. We didn’t have to worry about that then.
Andy Ockershausen: Everybody goes under the desk. So, Joanne, that was your … Valley Stream was your beginning in life, really.
Joanne Alper: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: That was a big part of what you are today, Valley Stream.
Joanne Alper: That’s correct.
Andy Ockershausen: And things out on Long Island with your parents. And then you had the idea, you got the legal bug, while you were still in school? High school?
Mother’s Advice: “Why don’t you be a lawyer and do your acting in front of juries?”
Joanne Alper: I decided I wanted to be a lawyer when I was in junior high. It was a redirection by my mother because I really wanted to be an actress.
Andy Ockershausen: The Jewish mother, naturally.
Joanne Alper: Yeah. I wanted to be an actress, and she didn’t necessarily think I’d be able to make a living doing that, so she said, “Why don’t you be a lawyer and do your acting in front of juries?” And I guess I took the advice. So I went to college knowing that I eventually wanted to go to law school.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, your ability to act is a very important part of your success, correct? You’re up on that bench, and before that you’re a lawyer. You’re arguing back and forth or whatever it is.
Joanne Alper: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: But being part of it, you have to be an actor to be a good attorney, I’m told.
Joanne Alper: To be a trial lawyer, you absolutely have to. You have to be able to know how to perform, whether you’re performing in front of a jury or when you’re arguing in front of a judge. You have to have a little bit of that flair.
Syracuse University – It’s a Family Thing
Andy Ockershausen: So you go to leave Valley Stream and migrate to Syracuse along with many famous people. A great school, a great alumni, of course.
Joanne Alper: Yes. Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: And you worked yourself up to be on the board there, correct?
Joanne Alper: Yeah. I have been on the Board of Trustees at Syracuse. I love it.
Andy Ockershausen: I bet you do.
Joanne Alper: Not only did I go there, my brother went there, my son, my daughter, my son-in-law. My husband says everybody except he and the dog went to Syracuse. And he spent enough money for tuition that he considers himself an alum as well.
Andy Ockershausen: Joanne, that started you in the law, by going to Syracuse?
Joanne Alper: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: You were rubbing elbows with people in the same probably financial area, right? Do Syracuse students … It’s not a rich school. It’s not a Dartmouth or …
Alper’s Major at Syracuse: American Studies
Joanne Alper: No. No. It’s not an Ivy League school. It’s a private school, though. I got a great background. I was an American Studies major, which is not that popular nowadays, but was then. It was a combination of American history, pop political science, literature. It was a wonderful major for someone who wanted to go to law school.
Andy Ockershausen: That helps you now as a judge, and it helped you all these years. Joanne, I’ve had maybe in my illustrious career a hundred young people talk to me from time to time. “How do I get in the broadcast business? Should I study that in college?” And I say, “No, no, no, no. Whatever you do, don’t study broadcasting because it ain’t what you hear in college. Take history. Learn geography. Learn where you are. Learn what the world is like. Learn what America was. And then go for something, be in broadcasting, but don’t waste your time. Study America.”
Newhouse School of Public Communication
Joanne Alper: What’s interesting is that the Newhouse School of Public Communication, which is probably one of the best communications schools, whether it’s print or news, sports, whatever, but what they do at Newhouse is that they don’t let their students only take classes in Newhouse. You can only take a limited number of credits in the Newhouse area. You’ve got to take your core English and history and political science and philosophy.
Andy Ockershausen: And writing.
Joanne Alper: And writing. Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: Kids don’t write anymore.
Joanne Alper: I remember my son was in Newhouse and he started at Syracuse in ’95.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, how old? He’s maybe 30 now, isn’t he?
Joanne Alper: He’s 40.
Andy Ockershausen: No way.
Joanne Alper: Yeah, he is. But they used to give them a test as Newhouse students at the end of the first year called GPS, which was grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I don’t know that do that anymore, but …
Andy Ockershausen: They don’t?
Joanne Alper: I don’t think so. I don’t know.
Andy Ockershausen: You should demand that. You’re on the Board. Kids should learn that.
Joanne Alper: We can’t micromanage the academics.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m sorry. Okay. You micromanaged Northern Virginia for years.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town and I’m talking to Joanne Alper, and Joanne, we’re gonna come back and talk to you. Once you get that sheepskin or whatever it is, become an attorney, whatever happened to you.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: So this is Our Town. Andy Ockershausen, and we’re having a wonderful conversation with Joanne Alper. And Alper is not your maiden name.
Joanne Alper: No, it is not.
Andy Ockershausen: What is your maiden name?
Joanne Alper: My maiden name is Fogel.
Andy Ockershausen: Folger?
Joanne Alper: Fogel. F-O-G-E-L.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, Fogel. We had a Fogel’s department store here in Washington as I recall.
Joanne Alper: I didn’t know that.
Andy Ockershausen: Very popular.
Joanne Alper: Well before me.
Andy Ockershausen: No. That’s true. Joanne, so you’re in Syracuse. You graduate with a law degree.
George Washington University Law School Graduate
Joanne Alper: No. I graduated with my undergraduate degree was from Syracuse. My law degree I came down here for.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, that’s right. I beg your pardon. You left Syracuse, but you were intending to. So you came into that wonderful, local institution called George Washington University, where I grew up. Whether you went or not was not important because it was not expensive. It was easy to get in.
Joanne Alper: Ow. It was … Back then … My husband remembers because we were both at law school at GW together. He remembers paying $3,000 a year for law school back in 1972, ’73. That was a lot of money, I guess, if you-
Andy Ockershausen: It was a lot of money.
Joanne Alper: -did it to today’s dollars.
Andy Ockershausen: But a very, very difficult school always with the great graduates at George Washington.
Joanne Alper: Yeah. It always was-
Andy Ockershausen: Because nobody in my area, it was always GW. We never called it George Washington.
Andy Ockershausen: But you finished law school and got your degree.
Joanne Alper: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: Who … Did you have any famous people? Being in Washington, they always flock to graduations at law school.
Dan Rather – Law School Graduation Speaker and Watergate
Joanne Alper: I remember who our law school, my law school graduation speaker was Dan Rather. Remember, I was in law school during Watergate, which was a fascinating time to be in law school at GW.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, I’m sure it was.
Joanne Alper: I started in Fall of ’72 and graduated in May of ’75, so that was all during the Watergate hearings and everything.
Andy Ockershausen: Kent State, the Vietnam war.
Joanne Alper: That was before. That was when I was an undergraduate in college.
Andy Ockershausen: But Vietnam was still going on.
Joanne Alper: Yeah. Vietnam was still going. Kent State and all the student strike was when I was an undergraduate.
Andy Ockershausen: Our country was always like this and we were a part of it.
Joanne Alper: That’s right, so it was a fun time to be at GW, but GW was very different than it is now because the streets were all torn up because they were building the Metro. They were building the World Bank building across the street. So it was an interesting place.
Andy Ockershausen: My friend Oliver Carr was head of the Board of Regents when they were doing most of that building. And a lot of famous people helped GW get on their feet. What is their name, Tompkins, the big builder our of Philadelphia, did most of the building I was told.
Andy Ockershausen: Anyway, Joanne, I’m off the subject. You’re more important than the builder. Now you got to get a job. What did you get paid?
Joanne Alper: Well …
Andy Ockershausen: You must have been waitressing or something to get your way through school.
Joanne Alper: No. No. I …
Andy Ockershausen: What did you do?
Whirlwind Romance and Marriage While in Law School
Joanne Alper: … got married.
Andy Ockershausen: He didn’t have any money.
Joanne Alper: Well, he had enough for us to pay the rent on an apartment. I actually met my husband … He was a third year student when I was a first year student at GW. And we met in November, got engaged in February, married in August.
Andy Ockershausen: Whirlwind.
Joanne Alper: And 45 years later we’re still together. My mother kept saying it will never last. So, and you know …
Andy Ockershausen: Is your mom still alive?
Joanne Alper: No. No. She died.
Andy Ockershausen: She would have said, “I told you. You’re going to break up any day now.”
From Law Clerk to Associate to Partner at one Law Firm
Joanne Alper: I know. Because I wanted to not transfer law schools, he had been looking for jobs mainly in New York originally. He stayed down here. We stayed here, and that’s how I kind of got my entry into Northern Virginia Law by getting a job as a law clerk working 20 hours a week for a firm in Arlington, which eventually they asked me to stay on as an associate. I later became a partner, and I stayed in that one place until I went on the bench in 1991. So that gave me …
The Harvey Cohen Effect
Andy Ockershausen: But it was a wonderful life.
Joanne Alper: It was a wonderful life. And I always say that the lawyer who hired me, Harvey Cohen, in December of 1973, gave me my start. I would not be anything … my career would not have been anything like it was without Harvey giving me that opportunity. For many reasons. Not only because I was a woman in an era where there weren’t many women in Northern Virginia getting …
Andy Ockershausen: Period.
Joanne Alper: … jobs. And secondly, because he promoted me. He would take me everywhere to court and everything else, so when I actually graduated from law school in 1975 and passed the Bar, people had seen me for a couple of years. So they said … they figured I was a lawyer all along.
Joanne Alper: So the first year I was in practice, there was a vacancy in the Arlington Bar Association, the position of Secretary, and I got elected. Nobody realized I was …
Andy Ockershausen: One year.
Joanne Alper: … six months into my career. But he mentored me. He gave me such opportunities. I’m always grateful. And I tell him that on a regular basis.
Andy Ockershausen: And no need to tell him because he knows it.
Andy Ockershausen: Joanne, but obviously, all these experiences you had growing up in New York and going to school and being associated with people, lifetime experiences help you in your main occupation, correct?
Joanne Alper: Yeah. When …
Andy Ockershausen: Being a judge is a people thing, I think.
Life’s Experiences Make for a Good Judge
Joanne Alper: I believe, you know, that you need … You can’t become a judge at 25 or 30. I mean, you could legally, but I think the problem is, you need some life experience of your own. I think you need to have represented clients to know what people go through, to understand that those aren’t just two stick figures standing in front of you in whatever courtroom, whether it’s a criminal case or a civil case. But they’re real people with real lives and real backgrounds.
So I think that you’re right, that life history, that life experience, the ups and the downs that you’ve had in life …
Andy Ockershausen: It’s a people business, really.
Joanne Alper: It is. It really is. It is for being a lawyer and I think it is for being a judge.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, I would assume so more than ever, because your experiences as a lawyer help you as a judge.
Andy Ockershausen: So here you are working for one of the prestigious firms in Northern Virginia and having a wonderful practice, obviously, and a comradeship of Harvey and Gerald, and … Who was that?
Cohen, Gettings, Alper and Dunham
Joanne Alper: Brian Gettings came on after that and David Sher and Frank Dunham. Yeah, we had a wonderful firm. We had great camaraderie over the years. Bill Stauffer …
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, it was. It was wonderful.
Joanne Alper: We had great people …
Andy Ockershausen: You had a beautiful building in Arlington too.
Joanne Alper: Well, we had our little office first at 1400 North Uhle Street, and then we moved over to 2200 Wilson.
Andy Ockershausen: On the top.
Joanne Alper: I used to say … On the top. We had the top floor. And I remember the disagreement between Harvey and Brian as to who was going to get the side with the view of the Capitol. That was a big issue.
Andy Ockershausen: No question. Office space, it dictates who the boss is.
Joanne Alper: Well, nowadays they don’t do that. A lot of law firms don’t say, “A partner gets this size office and an associate gets a smaller office.” Now everybody has cubicles. But back in the day it was a little different. But we had a great practice. We tried cases all over Northern Virginia. State Court, Federal Court, D.C. both Superior Court and Federal Court.
Andy Ockershausen: You had a great stable of lawyers – I call them.
Joanne Alper: We did. We had some great people.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town. This is Andy Ockershausen and I’m talking to Judge Joanne Alper. I never call her judge. I call her Joanne. But we’ll be right back and we’re going to talk about her career as a judge, which was different than her career as a defense or prosecutor.
Joanne Alper: No, I was never a prosecutor. Just . . .
Andy Ockershausen: Well, she prosecuted Harvey. This is Andy Ockershausen.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and talking with Joanne Alper about Our Town, and she’s seen it by living here. She’s a big part of Our Town. But more than that, trailblazing female in Northern Virginia in the tough year to be an attorney in front of all these lawyers. And all these judges were all men, of course.
No Diversity on the Bench When Alper Started Her Legal Career
Joanne Alper: Back when I started, all the judges in all the courts were men, were White men. There was no diversity on the bench. And some of them were somewhat hostile to a woman lawyer …
Andy Ockershausen: Why sure.
Hostility Against Women Lawyers, 1950s On
Joanne Alper: … or … so there were some challenges. And there were lawyers who were hostile. You know, I’d pick up the phone and try to talk to a lawyer in 1976, and I’ll never forget it. I called this guy about a discovery dispute in a case. And he said to me, “I’m not talking to some broad. Put your boss on.” That’s literally what he told me in 1976.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, my. Did you say, “I better hope I never get you in court”?
Joanne Alper: Well, yeah, that was long before I ever thought about being a judge.
Andy Ockershausen: But, Joanne. But still, you went through the fire and it must have made you a better person because you learned a lot and did a lot. But to get appointed to the bench is a major accomplishment almost for any attorney. Is that correct?
On Running and Being Elected to Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court
Joanne Alper: It is. In Virginia what happens, and what happened with me was that, there was a vacancy in 1990 on the Arlington Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. And the judge there, Judge Andy Ferrari had decided he was going to retire after 20 some years on the bench. So I, along with a whole host of other lawyers, declared that we were candidates. And the process was basically, number one, we had to get the endorsement of the local Bar Association. So the Arlington Bar had interviews and they wrote up reports, and then there was a Bar vote, whether you were highly qualified, qualified, not qualified, et cetera.
Joanne Alper: And then after that, the members of the General Assembly that represent Arlington, so the Senators and the Delegates, interviewed each of the candidates on one day. And it was in early January of 1991. And then they made the decision who the candidate that they would support, and then the rest of the General Assembly adopted that. That’s the way it was then, and it’s very similar to that now.
Andy Ockershausen: There was only one opening at the time?
Joanne Alper: There was one opening on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, that’s amazing. So you had a lot of qualified candidates, I’m sure.
Joanne Alper: 11 people that ran. I remember that race. There were 11 people that ran.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, they all had to be qualified to get that far, correct?
Joanne Alper: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: So one of the things that I remember about you, when it became Juvenile and Domestic Relations, in the sum of my conversation, that was a very difficult job because of the people you were dealing with were in trouble and deeply in trouble.
Emotional Connection “You can’t look at that kind of judgeship as just a job.”
Joanne Alper: It was, because we not only had concurrent jurisdiction with circuit court to hear custody and support and other things in people who had been married, but we had original jurisdiction on custody issues of people who had never been married but had a child or children. We dealt with domestic violence. We dealt with crimes by juveniles. Any crime that a juvenile committed, either was tried in the juvenile court, or if it was a felony, the juvenile court did the preliminary hearing and then certified it to the circuit court.
And a lot of people came in there and they didn’t have lawyers and didn’t have money for lawyers, and dealing with families in crisis can be very challenging and there’s never enough resources.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, tough for you. I know that you would feel that personally. I mean, deeply. It wasn’t just a job. You were really dedicated to do something.
Joanne Alper: No. You can’t look at that kind of judgeship as just a job. And of course, I have two children, when I went on the Juvenile Court bench in 1991, my son was 13, my daughter was nine. So I’m looking at kids, some of whom had grown up with my kids, some of them went to school with my kids, and it was hard. It was hard just to see them …
Andy Ockershausen: I bet it was . . .
Joanne Alper: Even if you had no connection, you had an emotional connection because you saw the parents and what they were struggling through.
Andy Ockershausen: And it was a lot of money involved in some of these disputes, correct?
Joanne Alper: Not so much in Juvenile Court really. Once you get to Circuit Court, if you’re trying a divorce case, and you’re dealing with money and property, often you’d have family dispute because they were fighting over a lot of money, you know?
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Joanne Alper: But not so much in Juvenile Court.
Andy Ockershausen: No. I can believe that. I misspoke that. I thought when you moved up it became … You were dealing more with adults.
Joanne Alper Elected to Circuit Court in 1998
Joanne Alper: All with adults. When I went to Circuit Court, I was elected to Circuit Court in 1998. And that’s the same process to run for it, to be interviewed, to have the Bar vote. And I was the first woman to serve in the Circuit Court in Arlington County.
Andy Ockershausen: I told you you were a trailblazer. I told everybody that.
Joanne Alper: Well, I’m very proud of that, and it was a great court. I had great colleagues. But the Circuit Court is the highest quoted trial jurisdiction, so we did everything on the criminal side, from capital murder and all the criminal cases that on the civil side we did all the trials of whether it was a personal injury case, a contract case, a divorce case, a wills and estate case. You name it, we tried it.
Andy Ockershausen: Well how did you feel sitting there in front of attorneys that you had worked with, or ever new on a personal basis? I mean how did you handle that. Did you ever have to recuse yourself?
Recuse or Not to Recuse?
Joanne Alper: Yeah, I recused myself. Yeah. For most of the time I was on the bench I would not hear cases with Harvey or some of the people I practiced law with. Toward the end when Mark, I had been away for such a long time, I wouldn’t automatically recuse, but I would go on the bench and if he were in a case or if one of my other law partners had been there, I would advise and I would ask the other side do you want me to recuse myself? Because if you do, that’s fine. I would give them the option. But the funny thing is, when you do that, I remember the first time that one of my, a lawyer that was a good friend of mine was in court in front of me. I mean we had a lot of cases, we didn’t socialize much, but we had cases against each other all the time as lawyers, and we had had a really hotly contested case in Prince William, the preceding March and now I’m on the bench in July and Juvenile Court and he walks in the courtroom, and it was hard to keep a straight face, let’s put it that way. He kept calling me Your Honor and I kept looking out the window so he wouldn’t see me laughing.
Andy Ockershausen: But the people you left changed too because you were gone long enough so their lives changed, or you knew each other but you weren’t as tight as you used to be.
Joanne Alper: No, we didn’t practice together there were no financial ties.
Andy Ockershausen: You didn’t party together?
Joanne Alper: No, no, not at all. And of course you know what happened was, when you go on the bench initially you know all the lawyers ’cause you’ve seen them, you’ve worked with them. By the time I left the bench, you know I retired in 2012, there was a whole new crop of lawyers who had only known me as a judge never knew me as Joanne the lawyer, Joanne the President of the Bar Association or anything else, they were kids, you’re right. And now in mediation, what I do now, which is to try to keep people out of court, I work with lawyers who some of whom I never even knew when I was on the bench, who didn’t know me as a judge.
Andy Ockershausen: They’re younger than your children.
Joanne Alper: They know me as a mediator. They are younger. I sometimes sit there in cases and I start talking, I give them my background and I tell them I’ve been doing this in the northern Virginia legal community for 45 years and I look around and nobody around the table is even 45 years old. That makes you feel old.
Andy Ockershausen: Joanne Alpert, as I’ve said you’re a legend and I keep telling everybody that. But in all your years, how could you ever talk in court with Betty Thompson, another female who had a high profile, I remember her. She was a great divorce attorney. She and Harvey used to tousle all the time.
Joanne Alper: Betty was a great role model. Betty became a lawyer in 1950. 1950. The year I was born.
Andy Ockershausen: Vietnam.
Joanne Alper: And you had to –
Andy Ockershausen: Korea.
Joanne Alper: Korea. You had to be, to be admitted to the bar of the different courts back then, you had to go in front of a local judge and then someone, another lawyer would move your admission to the court. And the story is told and I know it’s true because I’ve talked to Betty and I’ve actually seen the order, she walked into Judge McCarthy, who was the judge in Arlington at the time, and he said little lady what are you doing here? I’m a lawyer I want to be admitted to the bar. And he goes, well who’s moving your admission? He looks around the courtroom full of men and nobody was gonna … So Judge McCarthy goes all right, on her own motion, she’s admitted. She made her own motion and that order exists in the Clerk’s Office in Arlington.
Joanne Alper: And you know what, what was great about Betty is that she forged ahead. I mean being a woman lawyer in the ’50s.
Andy Ockershausen: She was a trailblazer.
Joanne Alper: She’s always said, when people ask, I’m not a woman lawyer, I’m a lawyer, and that was always … and even though I didn’t work with her, we were friends, and that really is sort of what I tried to adopt when I became a lawyer. Because she was just an amazing –
Andy Ockershausen: She stuck with it.
Joanne Alper: She was, and she worked, practiced law until the day she passed away and I think she was 87 or 88, and she’s an inspiration, she really was. She was active in the Bar.
Andy Ockershausen: So her reputation was sterling and a lot of publicity.
Joanne Alper: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: She was attractive, looked good in print, correct?
Joanne Alper: Yep. She was.
Andy Ockershausen: But she was good for you then. You had somebody that you could –
Joanne Alper: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: Lean on when times got tough and I’m sure they did.
Joanne Alper: If you needed it, and the thing is she always said to me, she said you know it’s not good to be friends with a Judge because I wouldn’t hear her cases ’cause we were friends.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Joanne Alper: So she used to say, you know, what’s the good of being friends with you, you won’t hear my cases. But she was the first woman President of the Arlington Bar, the Virginia Trial Lawyers.
Andy Ockershausen: She was a trailblazer, but you followed in her footsteps. Look at the things you’ve accomplished Joanne.
Joanne Alper: I did. I did.
Andy Ockershausen: Now you still see your old pals of course, and there’ll never be another firm like that.
Joanne Alper: No.
Andy Ockershausen: They had some very prominent people. But don’t you still take cases, do you still get paid, which is what America’s all about.
Joanne Alper: No, I don’t. I sit as a retired judge and when I have time and they need me and I get to do that.
Andy Ockershausen: You do mediation.
Private Mediation – Humane Process
Joanne Alper: But I do mostly private mediation.
Andy Ockershausen: You want to keep them out of court.
Joanne Alper: Right. Instead of being in court, we now work to keep people out of court. Mediation and some arbitration, but it’s such a more humane process. Think of it this way. Just use a divorce case as an example, instead of people getting up there in court and fighting about whatever and ruining whatever relationships they may have, and if they have kids they’re gonna be part of each other’s lives. It doesn’t matter if the kids are 5 or 25, it effects them. Here they come into a conference room, they come into an office, they work with their counsel, they work with the mediator, and they get things resolved so they can walk out, shake hands. I’ve had people finish divorce cases and give each other hugs, go out to dinner together. They don’t all work out that way.
Andy Ockershausen: I understand that.
Joanne Alper: But it’s still more humane than throwing it all up in front of a judge who’s a stranger. This way these people make their own decisions. So I’ve become a huge fan of the process.
Andy Ockershausen: Well I would assume economically it’s smart too.
Joanne Alper: Yes, you save a lot of money.
Andy Ockershausen: One of the things I learned many, many years ago from my friendship with various others, they tell clients right off the bat, if we can keep this thing out of court it means a good thing for both of us ’cause otherwise we’re gonna pay a lot of money.
Joanne Alper: That’s correct. And it’s any kind of case whether it’s a divorce case, a personal injury case, a contract case, an employment case, you know, everything deals with money and you gotta try to keep … and it’s expensive. It’s expensive to do. Lawyers fees, expert witness fees, it adds up.
Andy Ockershausen: Well David Sher and his firm at one time, ’cause I helped them, we were doing things about drunk driving and they were trying to convince people, there’s a lot more to get arrested than the driving. The financial burden is incredible if you’re a drunk driver.
Minors, Alcohol and Virginia Law
Joanne Alper: That’s right. One of the things, taking that back to juveniles, in Virginia juveniles under 18 cannot get their driver’s license until they go to a ceremony presided over by a Juvenile Court Judge and that’s true in every county in Virginia. And so what we did in Arlington is we worked with Mark Cummings, one of David’s partners, and others and we got a grant and we created a film of basically, it wasn’t even drunk driving, it was kids who had been at a party, drinking, and then got stopped. And we actually got Katie Couric, I got Katie Couric to come down, this was back in the mid ’90s when she was on The Today Show, to come down and do the narration. She filmed it. ‘Cause she’s a native Arlingtonian and I don’t know if they’re still using it ’cause it’s old now, but you really want to tell these kids, even if you’re caught in the park with an open can of beer, there’s a thing in Virginia called Abuse and Lose, which means you lose your right to drive. Even if you weren’t driving the car when you did it. An alcohol or drug violation can do that. If you’re applying for a job later and you’ve got a DWI on your record, so you’ve got employers looking at one person who’s equally qualified than you but doesn’t have a DWI, that’s gonna effect you there. It effects so much.
Andy Ockershausen: It stays forever.
Joanne Alper: It stays forever.
Andy Ockershausen: We try to tell young people that. I’m working with MADD, GLAD and DADD and David Sher but you’ve done such a great job. I mean I hate to keep saying that ’cause you’re still young, that you’re a trailblazer and that’s great.
Joanne Alper: Well I’ve been very lucky.
Andy Ockershausen: And the world has changed dramatically.
Joanne Alper: I have been very lucky. You talk about people helping –
Andy Ockershausen: There’s no luck, luck follows speed.
Everything Seems to Have Worked Out
Joanne Alper: I really think that you know you talk about, I was asked a very profound question when I was being interviewed by the General Assembly Delegation for my first judgeship for the Juvenile Court Judgeship, and I remember Senator Ed Holland who’s a wonderful man was Chair of the Delegation then, said to me, looking back at your entire career, and I can remember then I was like 40, or 41, he said what would you have done differently? And I never thought that. You don’t think about that when you’re in your 40s. And I thought back and you know, nothing. Everything seems to have worked out, I’m happy with where I am and not everyone can say that.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh you’re so right. I mean I get up every day and say that, to this beautiful woman who’s everything in the world and she’s just as spectacular as you are, and we always have that attitude. We even went up this morning, got up and went to church. Not for you. I did it for the Catholics. I’ll go to Synagogues too. But it’s important, it’s important in our life and I know it’s important in your life. Joanne Alper, this has been incredible, there’s so many things I learned from you that I did not know. Maybe it doesn’t make any difference, but I store things, and I got a computer in here that keeps everything. I know about all your bad things too, but I won’t go into that.
Joanne Alper: Thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: But I hope you will please listen to Our Town and the other people we’ve had. Nobody like you, there’ll never be another Joanne. There’s only one trailblazer. Betty Thompson did it as a lawyer, you’re doing it as a judge.
Joanne Alper: Thank you so much.
Andy Ockershausen: And please give my best to your husband. He did a great job working for the City too. I remember that.
Joanne Alper: Yeah he did. He was a Corp counsel.
Andy Ockershausen: We were supposed to have Karl Racine with us today. He’s a DA in Washington.
Joanne Alper: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: But something came up that he had to cancel. But we are so happy we had you and we let this thing drag more than we should, but it’s been great. Joanne Alper, you’re wonderful. This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town.
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