Episode 14: Talking Media & The Law

Podcast Transcript Of Virginia Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys Taite Westendorf & Bassel Khalaf Having An In-Depth Conversation With Jane Harper Of The Virginian-Pilot About Media Coverage Of Criminal Cases

Bassel Khalaf: 
Welcome to WK Pod, home of the neverending podstable where we discuss legal issues. Some of our guests are attorneys, some are not. Do not take anything on this podcast as legal advice. If you have questions about a legal issue, get your own attorney. Peace!

Yo, yo, yo. WK Pod. We've got Jane Harper from The Virginian-Pilot. This episode's gonna be about, I guess, legal journalism. Anybody who's interested in becoming a journalist, and specifically legal journalist would benefit from listening to this. Jane Harper does a lot of coverage in the Virginia Beach area, in the Hampton Roads area. She's somebody who I know who frequently will come up to me after court and ask me questions. And I don't think she's twisted my words yet. And I hope she doesn't ever because that's one of those things that people get mad at journalists for and start hollering fake news. But I don't think that's Jane's m.o. Jane, is that your m.o? 

Jane Harper:
No, not at all.

Bassel Khalaf:
Alright, so just a few thing, how long you've been doing this? 

Jane Harper:
I started back in the 80s, 1985, right after I graduated from the University of Texas. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Cool. Alright, so '85, straight out of undergrad and your degree is in journalism?

Jane Harper:
Journalism. 

Bassel Khalaf:
And what made you decide that journalism was the life for you? 

Jane Harper:
Kind of fell into it really. I thought I was going to do business. And then I realized I hated that. And went into communications and just kind of stumbled into it and realized that it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it doesn't pay much. But I think that the fun outweighs all of that. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Did it ever pay much? Or is this a product...

Jane Harper:
Not really, but it's definitely gotten worse in recent years. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Damn, bastards. Alright, so '85 out of Texas, you ended up in Virginia Beach at some point, when did that happen?

Jane Harper:
It's kind of roundabout. I started off in suburban Dallas and back then you had to start usually, at a very small paper. It was really difficult to get hired by a large paper right out of college. And so I was working for a very small suburban paper. And that's kind of good, because if you make a mistake, there's not many people who see it. So it's a good way to start. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Have you made any mistakes recently? 

Jane Harper:
Not recently. And I went from there to Annapolis, Maryland, big move, and worked for the Capitol newspaper there for about four years. That's where I discovered courts reporting. And once I started that, I knew that that was the only thing I wanted to do.

Bassel Khalaf:
For courts, do you only do criminal or do you ever get into civil cases?

Jane Harper:
I used to covers criminal and civil. I don't really care for the civil side of it. It's pretty complicated. And they're usually very long trials. 

Bassel Khalaf:
I'm going to say this is kind of a powerful feeling, being the one asking the questions, because usually, you're the one asking us questions. So now you're in the interviewee seat. How does it feel? Is it any weird or is it...

Jane Harper:
I don't like it, you know, I'd rather be on the other side.

Bassel Khalaf:
All right. Well, you can ask us questions at the end if it makes you feel better. 

Taite Westendorf:
You know, one thing that I'm a little envious of is that you get to do a lot of trial watching. When I was at the very beginning of my career when you want to learn you'd go in and you'd watch the the big names do their trials like Broccoletti or whatever the local big names are...

Bassel Khalaf:
Bassel Khalaf

Taite Westendorf:
Yeah, definitely Bassel Khalaf. Him and Broccoletti are neck and neck. I think he pulled ahead. Sorry, he's getting a little over the hill. But anyway. This is probably a tough question. But what are your most memorable trials that you've covered? Are there any that stand out to you? 

Jane Harper:
Well, actually, one was a Broccoletti one. It was the former Navy guy who was charged with killing a teenage girl and wrapping her up in a sleeping bag and dropping her in a dumpster. 

Bassel Khalaf:
It was recent right, like last few years?

Jane Harper:
Yeah, they had bloody fingerprints you know, that came back matching him that were on the bag around her body. It just seemed impossible to get over that. 

Taite Westendorf:
This is the one that had the the deathbed confession, right?

Jane Harper:
Yes. Actually, it was an investigator who works for Broccoletti who found the family members who used to live across the street from this young woman and supposedly had a deathbed confession from him. But I thought that all of that was incredible, but I thought that one of the things that was really special was when he got the fingerprint person to say that it was possible for the fingerprints to have been on the bag first and then the blood on it later. And I think that did it for the jury in a lot of ways.

Bassel Khalaf:
Yeah, he's the guy apparently. I mean, if anybody said, who's the guy? Broccoletti, he's the guy. Do you agree with that? 

Jane Harper:
Absolutely. If you ask any reporter around here, if they got in trouble, who would they go to, they'd hire Broccoletti. And other lawyers go to him too. 

Taite Westendorf:
You do realize we're just gonna edit in Westendorf & Khalaf. 

Bassel Khalaf:
We had Cal Bain on here from the public defender's office, and he was talking about his two, you know, cream of the crop guys and one was Broccoletti. So anyways, we hate, we shouldn't be hyping up our competitors. Maybe he's not even a competitor. 

Taite Westendorf:
What was the purpose of this podcast exactly?

Bassel Khalaf:
He's probably in a different echelon than us. But whatever. If you get charged with a crime, go to Broccoletti. If you can't afford him, come to Westendorf & Khalaf. Come to Kmart.
Come to Kmart.

Taite Westendorf:
Another thing that fascinates me as somebody who does this for a living and has done tons of court watching over the years is the art of closing arguments. I've done at least a couple of dozen of jury closing arguments over the course of my career, some better than others. But is there anybody you've watched or any specific closing argument that you can remember where you know, there wasn't a dry eye in the house or they just really knocked it out of the ballpark? 

Jane Harper:
Not so much emotional, but I remember one that I was really impressed with was Adam Lantz, a prosecutor in Virginia Beach. He prosecuted the case of a man who was accused of killing a woman he was romantically involved with and dismembering her body and dumping it in the great dismal swamp. Awful case. And Adam did a PowerPoint presentation at the end that was just amazing. t was such a good job of summing everything up with pictures and words. And I mean, there was emotion in it too. And it just was very impressive. I hadn't seen anything like that before. 

Bassel Khalaf:
He's a good guy. We know him personally. Actually, he listens to our podcast. So that's good to know. Adam, what's up, dude? Anyways, Jane Harper thinks that you did a pretty good job. 

Taite Westendorf:
So yeah, we think you alright.

Bassel Khalaf:
Jane likes you. We like Jane. So we like you, too now. Anyways. Yeah. So one of the things that when you talk to anybody in media, and it's, I don't know how recent this is, or maybe now I'm just aware because I'm older and more mature and wiser as a human being. But this fake news thing where it's become easy to say I don't like what is being reported. So I'm going to demonize it. I'm sure when you started, you had this sort of here's the basics of journalism. The who,  the what, the why, the when, and if you really want to inject your own opinion, it becomes an opinion piece. But if you're doing this sort of objective journalism, then it should be as simple as you know, here are the main points we hit. And we fact check it. And that's the end of it. What what are your thoughts on this idea that the media has some incentive to skew the facts or skew the journalism? I guess, just sort of as a whole, and then maybe also talking about journalists who are a part of the counterculture because there needs to be a market for a certain view. 

Jane Harper:
I think a lot of it is just a distraction technique. Sometimes people will say, Oh, it's just fake, just immediately, just to throw everyone off of the idea that this could possibly be true. And I noticed with a lot of our readers, or at least the ones that I hear from, they only want the bad side of it. Whenever I'm covering a case, I try to get the defendant's side in and explain what they were thinking. Even if they're found guilty, there's another side of the story. And sometimes I'll get emails from readers who are like, why are you giving them any time? Why are you putting that out there? And I just think it's only fair. And it's sad that people only think that it should be one sided. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Do you ever because I guess the thought would be if you're one of these, the media's fake, you'd have to picture the boardroom meeting where everybody's sitting there conspiring that we need to get X politician in Y spot or something. There has to be this grand conspiracy. You have an editor, you've got people who have to approve your stories, right. So I mean, is there ever this idea that you've reported accurately, honestly, but somebody then said something to you that makes you feel like you need to fudge things. Maybe fudge is such a loaded word, in many ways, but that you have to cater to a certain thing with audience revenue in mind or anything like that? 

Jane Harper:
No, no. And that, I think I'm really pleased with our editors, I think that they're a great group of people. And they try to be fair. And that's another thing too. And I think that's something that's come about in recent years is that everyone thinks that we have an agenda. And that we have this one point that we're trying to get out there or something, and we don't. We're trying our best to be objective and fair, and cover all sides. And yet, there are many people who just don't see it that way. And, you know, they think that we just are determined to put out the liberal point of view.

Bassel Khalaf:
Do you think that there is because you come from, you know, graduated in 85. And views were one way, but if I'm a journalist just coming out, I'm looking at trying to be as fair as possible, but you got maybe a Fox News, and then you got an MSNBC on the other side. And then now you've got like a One America New Network and Newsmax which, you know, my chuckling is directed at you clowns, because I think that again, it's so transparently somebody's going to buy this because they want to hear it, and we're going to put it out. But if I'm a journalist coming out of school, maybe I don't know any better, maybe I'm thinking, well, this is all revenue base. Do you see attitudes changing? Or do you see somebody who might be coming in that you work with who's younger and think, you know, maybe you need some guidance? I'm not asking for specific names, of course. But as far as just general attitudes.

Jane Harper:
Not really. But I do think that they approach the job a lot differently, because they've been raised with the internet and social media. As we said, I started in '85, of course there was no internet. Then I worked on one of those computers with a keyboard that was about two inches thick, you know, everyone had carpal tunnel syndrome. And there was no email or anything, it was such a different world. And actually, I took a long break from full time newspaper work when my kids were born. And I did some freelancing, I was out of it for about 20 years. And I didn't come back until about five years ago. So I had left when the internet was brand new, you know, email was just coming about. And so we covered things a lot differently. And there was none of this 24 hour news, you know, I would write a story for the next day's paper, and everybody read print, because that was all there was. And then when I came back to it five years ago, it was a whole other world. And I was not used to having to write a story quickly and get it online. And that's how editors are like, get something online, you know, do it now. And I don't like to work that way. I've learned how. But I missed the days of when we could take our time more on a story.

Taite Westendorf:
Yeah, in some alternate version of my life, I might have become a journalist. I was very interested in it when I was in high school. I don't know if they still do this or not. But back then they had high school correspondents for the various high schools. So I was  the high school correspondent for First Colonial. If you Google my name, you can still see like my byline where I had a fake ID article. But anyway, way back then they had that the old building in Norfolk where the Pilot was, and it was this very bustling newsroom. And it had this very cool All the President's Men sort of vibe to it. And that was back when everybody's still subscribed to the print edition. And every house in the neighborhood had their paper in the front yard at the beginning of the day. I mean, what's the newsroom like, now? Is it still that sort of vibe? 

Jane Harper:
There isn't a newsroom. Yeah, cuz we sold the building. I mean, when we first got here, I moved to Norfolk in the mid 90s. And back then, my husband was a reporter for the paper for awhile. And back then, oh, my gosh, you know, the building was full. And we had bureaus in the Outer Banks with several people. And I mean, we probably had seven bureaus, and just a ton of people. And, we got to the point where we were using a fraction of the building, and they sold it recently. It's going to be apartments soon. And we're working out of our homes that started with the pandemic, but it's going to continue that way.

Bassel Khalaf:
Does your husband still do reporting?

Jane Harper:
No, actually my husband passed away several years ago. He covered the environment for the Pilot for 19 years, and he died of pancreatic cancer in 2013.

Bassel Khalaf:
I gotcha. I guess the angle I was gonna go to was my wife, my wife's got a law degree. She's a lawyer. She doesn't really practice but it's one of those things where you have an argument with another lawyer and you kind of wonder how that's gonna be. And, you know, unfortunately, my wife's very intelligent and she can call me on my bullshit whenever she wants. I imagine two reporters arguing would be maybe similar. 

Jane Harper:
I think that it works very well a lot of times. I would assume it works that way with a lot of other professions. But I loved having a spouse who was another reporter because we understood when we were bothered by an editor, or if you had to work late, you know, when you had something come up at the last minute, we both understood that. And we enjoyed talking about our stories. And we worked at three papers together, too. So we had a lot of the same bosses. 

Bassel Khalaf:
So just we were talking about Broccoletti for lawyers. Maybe you don't want to name a competitor, but is there a Broccoletti for reporters? Somebody who you're just like, alright, this person? I guess that would segue into the question of what are sort of the hallmarks of a good journalist?

Jane Harper:
Well, I thought my husband was the best. He really was extremely talented, he was. And I think that's interesting, too. It's something I've always wanted to ask other reporters is, if you had to describe yourself as a reporter, or a writer, which would you pick, and I think my husband would have chosen writer. He was very talented, but he was an amazing reporter. I mean, he just dug and dug and dug. And I think for myself, I would say, reporter. I like getting the information better than writing it. But I do really enjoy putting a story together. And finding a good way to tell it. So I enjoy them both. But I think I would say reporter, personally. I can't think of anyone. I've also been very lucky in the many years that I've been in this business. I've had friends all over the country. And one friend where I worked with back in Annapolis is an editor at the New York Times now. And, I've had friends go to The Washington Post. There's some on the west coast, there's someone at the LA Times, and I get a big kick out of seeing their stories when they run nationally.

Taite Westendorf:
Oh, that's awesome. Environmental journalism. That's sort of a fascinating topic. Did that take you to different places in the world?

Jane Harper:
Well, it was my husband who did that. No, not really. I mean, it could have, and I'm sure he would have liked that. But he loved it. And he's just a strong, strong environmentalist. And all of our children are now too. Two of my kids have become vegetarians now because of the pollution that meat production causes. And they're much more than I am. I remember once my husband found, we had this brick patio, and we had weeds coming up all the time. And I got some weed killer, roundup or something like that. And I hid it because I didn't want him to find out. And you would think I was cheating. 

Bassel Khalaf:
How many kids do you have? How old?

Jane Harper:
We have three. The oldest is 25. Then I have a daughter who's 23 and a son who's 20.

Bassel Khalaf:
Yeah. Again, it's one of those things where my my kids are five and three. And they just learned the art of fibbing. It's one of those things where I could start cross examining them and say, yeah, now my dad's a lawyer. And he can do this because he knows how to...Look again, if you had a journalist parent or two journalist parents, that as a child, that might be kind of annoying. Do you ever get that vibe that your kids were feeling that sentiment?

Jane Harper:
Well, my youngest actually thought about being a journalist for awhile. And I tried to talk him out of it. And I did succeed, and I felt bad about it. Because it is such a fun profession. I cannot imagine enjoying something more than I enjoy this. It's so interesting, you meet fascinating people. And you're having a lot of freedom too. I've got a lot of freedom in deciding what stories I cover, what cases I'm going to cover. And your bosses tend to have a lot of respect for your judgment. And it's great. You don't have to sit in an office, you're out and about. But as I mentioned, the pay is lousy. And job security is not good, you know, papers are laying off all the time. And I think he kind of saw that and decided to try something else. But I think part of the reason why he decided to pursue it or wanted to pursue it was because he saw how much his father and I enjoyed it. And all three of them were talented writers.

Taite Westendorf:
You talked a little bit about the changes, and a lot has been written about local news specifically dying and local papers dying. And there's been a lot of papers that have folded or they've consolidated or come under some new conglomerate management, and all of that. I don't know where it all went wrong. Maybe it's where, you know, with the internet people there was a generation of people that got accustomed to not paying for their news. I pay for my subscription to The Virginian-Pilot by the way.

Bassel Khalaf:
I actually I gave you some shit the other day. Not the other day, it was months ago, but I was like, stupid paywall. And what is this? I hate this.

Jane Harper:
It's very cheap.

Bassel Khalaf:
I know it's cheap. It's just being the internet generation. And I remember the pre-internet days, so I'm sort of there right in the middle. But it just the idea that I have to pay to get the news pisses me off, but it's also like, well, how's Jane Harper getting paid?

Taite Westendorf:
Right. Well, and also back in the day, if you were looking for a job or whatever, you go to the classifieds for the Pilot. And that's not a thing anymore as people go to Facebook, or Craigslist, or whatever the case may be. So all these revenue sources dried up. And it's just I don't know, it's so important for us as a society to figure something out, because local news is so important for keeping local officials accountable. And the truth is, and I've realized this, especially in the age of COVID, who your elected officials are at a local level, a lot of the time influences your life a lot more heavily than national politics which there's so much more news about. So, the school board meetings where we're determining and arguing over when our kids are going to go back to school or right now, like Bassel and I are advocating for public defenders to get more money, which is a local issue. 

Bassel Khalaf:
That you should cover by the way. 

Taite Westendorf:
But I guess I was trying to wind up to a question there. But it's how do we fix this problem? Because local news is so important. Do you have any sorts of ideas or insights being neck deep in it?

Jane Harper:
There's one that is actually being pursued by several publications. It kind of sounds crazy, but they've been reaching out to very wealthy individuals to see if they would buy the papers. I mean, I read something about the Chicago Tribune, which is part of the company that we're part of now, we're Tribune. And they were knocking on doors of billionaires, reporters, were saying, Hey, would you consider you know, buying this paper? And it's kind of become a last resort. I mean, I don't know what else we're gonna do.

Bassel Khalaf:
So how much of what you do is psychological? Because there's some people who seem so set on what they want to hear. And ultimately, it's a business and it needs to make money. And I know, we kind of talked about, are you going to just cater to the fringes by reporting and fudging your facts or whatever. And the answer should be no for any respectable journalist or reporter. Do you get any training or is there any sort of movement towards we need to be cognizant of the psychology of human beings to...I don't know if it's to break through this thing that people have. I don't want to call it this frailty of people where they just can't get around the fact that they really want to hear what they want to hear, and they need to hear it now. Just sort of that psychological aspect of it. I mean, how much of that plays into it? Or again, is this just the dry who, what, why, where, when? And is there maybe, I guess, is that like an old school, new school thing? Or is what I'm saying just not a thing? 

Jane Harper:
I'm not really sure of the question.

Bassel Khalaf:
That's the mark of a bad journalist.

Taite Westendorf:
Sometimes Bassel just likes to talk. Do you want to formulate that into a question? Do you want to take another shot?

Bassel Khalaf:
I was gonna turn it into a freestyle rap. If you rewind it and play it at half speed, it makes sense. 

Taite Westendorf:
And backwards.

Bassel Khalaf:
3d chess.

Jane Harper:
I'm not sure if I'm answering this. But I mean, there is some continuing education, there are conferences that reporters can go to. And within our own newsroom, we form groups to try to delve into issues more like we have a race and identity group who talks about issues involving race, and gender identity, and covering that. And you know, there's been a lot of things that have been going on lately with newspapers that some readers don't agree with. And some readers are thrilled with, like recently, there was the decision to start capitalizing the word black when you're referring to a black person, and then people were like, well, shouldn't white be capitalized. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure, I think White is now capitalized.

Bassel Khalaf:
I didn't even notice that.

Taite Westendorf:
As a white man, it's very, very important to me. Thank you.

Bassel Khalaf:
I'm slightly beige so I don't know.

Jane Harper:
Some people think we did that on our own. It's Associated Press. Associated Press is the one who write a style book. And basically, every newspaper follows it.

Taite Westendorf:
Sort of getting into that. Do you find, this isn't anything unique to journalists specifically, but is there any sort of generational conflict that you observe between younger, maybe more social justice warrior oriented reporters and...

Jane Harper:
I think so, yeah.

Bassel Khalaf:
Do you roll your eyes at the woke culture? 

Jane Harper:
A little.

Bassel Khalaf:
Does it make you sick?  I knew it. I do too sometimes. Not always, some of its legit.

Taite Westendorf:
I'm answering my own question, but it gets a bit over the top. In our line of work, I'm very cognizant of racial biases, and I'm very aware that a lot of my clients get the the short end of the stick on account of race. As far as they're more likely to get stopped, more likely to get searched, but some of the rhetoric you hear, it's woah. Is that any sort of an issue? I know you said there's not really a newsroom where people are interacting, but is that any source of conflict at all that you've experienced between the the younger and the older generation?

Jane Harper:
No, I don't notice a conflict. But I do think that there is some difference in how we see things. And I think that's a good thing. One thing that I thought was kind of funny, it happened back when remember when Ralph Northam had the photo that appeared in the yearbook of with blackface, very controversial.

Taite Westendorf:
Which at first it was him, and then it wasn't, he wasn't sure.

Bassel Khalaf:
Sorry, not sorry. 

Jane Harper:
And I think that might have been in the 80s when that happened, or maybe 70s.

Taite Westendorf:
Somebody dug up the EVMS year book. 

Bassel Khalaf:
That's one of those things where it was like, your political opponent. How didn't you find that?

Jane Harper:
You know, newspapers now are checking the yearbooks all the time now, candidates, but anyway, there was a reporter who sat behind me and I remember him saying, hey, Jane, I turned around, he's like, you were around in the 80s, because he wasn't even born in the 80s. He's like, where people going around in blackface all the time?

Taite Westendorf:
It's just how it was, that's just how you did. 

Bassel Khalaf:
You couldn't get a job unless you wore blackface.

Jane Harper:
I was like, not only was I around, I was actually a working journalist.

Bassel Khalaf:
That's wild. I was talking to Taite. We were just talking about yesterday, I think about movies and things that would fly in movies. And it was sort of this idea that things were pretty raw. At one point in the 70s, you had like a certain movie where they would have you know, horrific things by today's standards. And I remember when I was in my coming of age years, American Pie came out in the early 2000s. And that was this controversial thing. But when you look at the 70s, maybe that was whatever big movie was back then, like light version of it. So I know things are cyclical, where it gets, you know, super, maybe liberal or conservative, maybe those aren't the words to be using. But you know, you see these cycles. But it's interesting, though, that since '85 when you're reporting on stuff, you're kind of feeling the pulse as part of your job professionally. And I imagine at some point for all this wokeness that's going on, there's going to be a counter reaction at some point we're gonna have what's that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? Isn't there a movie where they're killing people for entertainment? Am I just making stuff up?

Taite Westendorf:
I'm trying to remember. Oh, he's talking about The Running Man.

Bassel Khalaf:
Probably. I haven't even seen The Running Man. But I think he explained it to me. What is this? Anything like The Running Man?

Taite Westendorf:
No, it's nothing like The Running Man. Let me segue.

Bassel Khalaf:
Let me finish....

Taite Westendorf:
Butt out buddy. All right. So movies are kind of my wheelhouse. I feel like it's how I relate to all my life experiences. So specifically to journalism, I think I had mentioned All The President's Men already, but then Spotlight was one that came out more recently. Are there any that you've viewed where you're like, wow, okay, that's a pretty accurate depiction of the world that I've lived in. Was there any one that you ever saw that was like that?

Jane Harper:
Well, you know, it was a comedy and it wasn't really trying to show...I think The Post is a great movie. Did you see that one about the pentagon papers?

Taite Westendorf:
Yes, the one that Steven Spielberg directed with Tom Hanks.

Jane Harper:
I love that. And I love All the President's Men, and All the President's Men was the one that brought a lot of my generation into becoming reporters. Because I was like, and I think fifth grade maybe when that came out. But a movie that I really enjoy, it's called The Paper.

Taite Westendorf:
It was with Michael Keaton.

Jane Harper:
Yes, Michael Keaton, and oh, gosh, Marisa Tomei, and it's 24 hours in the life of a newspaper and it is such a ride. It's really funny. It's my favorite newspaper movie and I relate to a lot of those characters. So if you ever want to get a feel for what it's like, that's a good one.

Bassel Khalaf:
That's cool. Marisa to me is gonna be a babe until she's 90. That's my input on this because I don't even know any of these people.

Taite Westendorf:
She's now Spider Man's aunt. She's Aunt May in the new ones. Anyone she's also in one of the great lawyer movies, My Cousin Vinny.

Jane Harper:
Yes.

Bassel Khalaf:
Shoot, so early on, you got into courtroom journalism. Did you ever think you might want to be a lawyer?

Jane Harper:
I did. When I was a child, that's what I thought I wanted to be. And when I was in journalism school, my favorite class by far was media law. I loved that class. And sometimes I regret not going to law school. Although I don't know that I would have gotten an LSAT score that would have been good enough.

Bassel Khalaf:
Well, you see enough people where you can sort of weed out the good from the bad. And I hope you look at me and Taite as people who don't give super clownish arguments. Can you give us a plug real quick and say how great we are?

Jane Harper:
Yes, you did such a great job on that case with the Uber driver.

Bassel Khalaf:
Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Jane Harper:
I'm sure he appreciates it now that he had those charges dismissed as a result of your work.

Bassel Khalaf:
He actually needs to be one of our guests on the podcast, because yes, I did. I worked my butt off. I don't really brag, but that's one where I busted my butt. And but for that, maybe he'd be in prison for a long time.

Jane Harper:
There's one case that y'all covered...

Taite Westendorf:
I imagine it was probably our serial rapist friend.

Jane Harper:
And it was so bad, the evidence was so bad. And I just thought what can you say? What can you possibly say in your argument. I'm blown away by that, that you can come up with something to say, because the evidence was pretty overwhelming in that case, and I thought y'all did a great job. I mean, that's your job. And a lot of people don't understand, how can you defend someone who's guilty? I'm sure you all get that a lot. But we all have a right to a fair trial. We all have a right to have our case heard. I mean, think about the guy that Broccoletti defended, the Navy guy who was accused of killing that young woman, you know, he could have easily been sentenced to life in that case, if he hadn't had such a determined and hardworking lawyer. And his wife too was a big advocate for him. But there's times when the case seems so bad. And yet it's not what people think, it's not what we see on the outside.

Bassel Khalaf:
So what I was gonna get out was, I imagine you've seen so many where maybe you'd get some young buck in the courtroom, and you hear what he's saying. And you're like, No, dude, you should be saying this or that. Or do you just stay impartial straight face? I mean, under the mask, you can't really tell what your face is doing. But do you? Do you ever get this idea that oh, man, let me step up in there real quick?

Jane Harper:
Very rarely. I mean, I've covered courts in Texas, Maryland, and Virginia. And I've been very impressed wherever I go. And like you were saying with the public defenders, people think oh no, I got a public defender. I can't afford a real lawyer. I've seen so many people who have had a public defender who was so much better than the private lawyers. Most people who go into the public defender's office are very talented people. They're looking for some experience, and maybe move on. Some stay with it. But I think that's such a mistake to think that because you have a public defender, your lawyer's not as good. Sure they have a ton more cases than a private lawyer probably does. But they have seen some really skilled, talented and hardworking people.

Bassel Khalaf:
It's definitely a misconception because we were both public defenders. And it's weird, because once you become a private attorney, people want to listen to you. They're like, I've given you money, right? I now trust what you're saying. And let's do what you're saying. But we're public defenders, I'm stuck with you. You're stuck with me. You don't like me, I don't like you. So it becomes a little difficult. I don't know if Taite had anything super awesome to say. But if he doesn't, I was gonna get into...

Jane Harper:
Well, hold on to that public defender or private. Yeah, just one example because actually, I can think of one case where the defense lawyer was so bad. And everyone in the courtroom was just like, Oh, my God, this is painful. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Can you tell us who? Tell us that.

Jane Harper:
No, it wasn't Virginia Beach. And it was a couple who was charged. And the wife had a public defender and the husband had the private lawyer. The public defender was so much better than the private lawyer and I felt so bad for him. Because, you know, and I think that the husband took the private lawyer because he had a long record and probably had more at stake. But it really shows you that you don't assume. There's really some talented people, but also you can get a really bad private attorney.

Taite Westendorf:
Yeah, absolutely.

Bassel Khalaf:
So we kind of put you on the backfoot by even having you here because we're asking you questions. I feel like it's weird. If I went into a lawyer consult, let's say I get charged with a criminal offense, and I go into the consultation, because I need a lawyer, and I hear a guy talking and he's a total clown. I'm kind of like, dude, you know what, you're saying makes zero sense. As a professional, I think you suck and need to go play somewhere. With that in mind, you're probably hearing us ask questions and thinking these guys, you know, there's something about them that's just not right. It's probably because they suck at what they do. But is there anything you'd want to ask us or any critique. Give us that sort of real thing where we can become better human beings at the end of this.

Jane Harper:
We should always talk to the reporters afterwards. No comments are not fun.

Taite Westendorf:
You know, well, to that end. I know this is a big generalization. But do you prefer working with prosecutors, defense attorneys, which one is cooler? Defense attorneys?

Jane Harper:
I like both. I don't get a whole lot from the prosecutors either. Back in the day, they did talk to us a lot more. We didn't have to deal with spokespeople all the time. And I mean, gosh, there was a time when the detective on a case used to talk to you. I miss those days. But no, I like them both.

Taite Westendorf:
I'll give you a quick story. I'll give a little bit of background by saying when you're in law school, it's not like we get media training. So it's not something that you're equipped to do or comfortable doing necessarily just because you know the law. And so I think the default for a lot of defense attorneys is reluctance. When I was very early on in my career a couple of times, I was very excited, like, oh, a newspaper reporter actually wants to talk to me about a case and the idea of getting my name in the paper would be exciting. And so I would give a quote, and then my boss at the time, Mr. Legler would bring me in and say, so I see this quote where you said XYZ, that your client claims he was misidentified, maybe you need to be shutting the F up and not giving statements to the reporters. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Yeah, cuz from the lawyer side, it's your job is to protect them in the courtroom. So this idea that there's some extracurricular stuff with the media that you got to be doing. I think, as a law firm, and as a business, we like putting our names out there to make sure that people know we fight. So maybe future clients, but it's not like you're gonna get in front of the camera and say something that's going to change the outcome of a case. So it's almost like why would I talk to the reporter, and I think maybe the public defender system probably takes the view of, let's stay on point, let's go do the job and be done with it.

Taite Westendorf:
But you know, I think that it would be beneficial to our profession, if that was part of the standard curriculum in law school. At least some bare minimum of media management. Because a lot of the time that's to your clients benefit. There's a media aspect to cases whether you like it or not. The First Amendment exists, and journalists have a right to cover the trial. That comes up with clients all the time. I mean, we just had it coming up with a client where there's some media exposure, maybe they feel like their good name is being dragged through the mud. So part of your job as the defense attorney goes beyond the courtroom and into the media realm. So I guess that was my little screed to say that lawyers need to get some training.

Bassel Khalaf:
Yeah, they do. I had a case very recently that you just reported on I think, before we started recording this podcast. We talked about animal control got involved and it involved a bunch of cats and a house and stuff like that. As a person who cares for his client, I kind of tracked you down and said, I know you're doing a story on this and can you please put in my thoughts on it because I think there needs to be balance and I'm really the only person who could come in and give that balance that I thought was fair. Taite's right, as a lawyer, you don't get that sort of guidance. And when the bar looks at your performance, it is courtroom only unless you're going out and trashing your client in the media. But these are human beings who they go out there, they get trashed online. The most recent case I had people commenting that we need to kill this person, put a bullet in their head, and it's one of those things where I want to defend this person. I'd love to become you know, Mister, it's 11:30pm and I got a few whiskies in me and I'm going to go online and talk trash to all these people. How dare you speak ill of my client and all this type of stuff. But, you've got to stay professional, and you got to keep it, you know what it is. And I'm sure you're very cognizant of the fact that everything you do ends up having this big, big impact in the world where now it's Joe Schmo can come online and either comment something horrific, or just google the person's name and hunt them down and do something horrible. And I noticed like CNN, specifically, they they had been putting out some stories that people didn't like, and I think somebody came to their at main office in Atlanta and either brought a gun or they threatened to do that. I was just going on a rant for no reason. But I guess I will turn that into a question by saying, how much of those considerations go into your reporting? You know, let's say you reported on something that was objectively true, but then somebody ended up dead or somebody ended up, whatever. You know, I'm sure you'd sleep at night, the same as if one of our clients got a life sentence after we did the best job that could possibly be done. That's just the reality is some people end up in a situation that you don't like, and you end up being part of the cogs in that machine. But how much of that goes into your consideration when you're doing a report?

Jane Harper:
I do think about that. Sometimes I think about what kind of impact it's going to have on the person. And there was a case, actually the one that you had recently. I knew where the woman worked. And I could have put that in the story. I worried that she would get fired. Am I right to keep that out? Is that something that the public really needs to know? Do they need to know what restaurant she worked at?

Bassel Khalaf:
So that's awesome. I could see maybe a less scrupulous journalist thinking, Okay, now I can get people more riled up and that might lead to more of a hullabaloo is the best way I can think for it. But that's great stuff. Do you see a difference between what you do and maybe people now because now you have social media, Instagram, Facebook, and people will do anything for what they call clout, where you're now getting traction online. So if you did report these things, you might get a little more of a favorable response in terms of revenue and viewership and all that type of stuff. But do you see a generational difference between what you do and maybe what the trend is now?

Jane Harper:
It's possible. I think the fact that I am older, and I've had children that have gone through the school system, I've been married, I lost my husband, I have had a lot of life experience. And I think that that goes into your reporting. You can relate to certain situations that when I was in my 20s, when I was first starting out, maybe I wouldn't have thought some of the ways that I think now.

Taite Westendorf:
You were talking about discouraging your son who was interested in possibly being a journalist. It's so sad because it's such an important part of having a free society,  informing people. You can't even put a value on that. To have the decades of experience and the seasoning. And we need that. I don't know, there's not a simple answer to it. But we need to figure something out where there's a realistic career track for people that want to be journalists.

Bassel Khalaf:
Alright, here's my question. If you ask me, what is your dream case to get? It would be one where I have something to work with, of course. It's probably going to be a contested jury trial, where public opinion is one way but I get to sway it the other way with this eloquent speech I give. And it's beautiful. And everybody loves me. And I'm carried from the steps of the courthouse and it's wonderful. And also the person pays me a lot of money to do it. So there's that. Alright, so that's my dream case as a criminal defense attorney. As a journalist, you know, you put something out locally. And sometimes it seems from what I've gathered on Google, it gets picked up by the Associated Press or by some entity that can disseminate this throughout the country or throughout the world. Even if it gets on CNN, then maybe BBC is gonna pick it up. What is your dream case? If you're gonna say I want to kill it in my profession, I get this case that comes across. I imagine it involves an attorney that you're semi-tight with. Which I would imagine it's a Westendorf and Khalaf case. What is your dream journalistic thing that you would be doing at this point?

Jane Harper:
Oh, I don't know. I just love covering trials. And I actually just love being a community journalist. I don't have a desire to. I mean, well, it would be fine to work for a Washington Post type paper, but I don't want to do the national stories. I like doing local stories. I like covering things that happen in my community. And one of the stories that I got the most response on, very positive, and I really enjoyed doing was if you remember the 7-11, where the customer shot the robbers and one of the robbers was killed.

Taite Westendorf:
And some people thought he was a good samaritan, some people thought he was a vigilante.

Jane Harper:
It's interesting. I got a call from this anonymous woman who said she knew him and that she could put me in touch with him. And she was so funny. She wouldn't tell me her name. She said, just call me mom. And she would get back with me. And mom called me later and she said, Okay, he's going to meet you at Princess Anne Park. He's going to be on a green bike. I don't know his name. 

Taite Westendorf:
Deep Throat stuff.

Jane Harper:
I was a little worried. I told my editors like, Okay, if you don't hear from me later, I wasn't sure what was gonna happen. And you know, I was like, how do I know that this is him. And I finally saw this guy with a green bike. And we sat on a bench and it was a Saturday morning over at Princess Anne Park. And we talked for hours. And, it was pretty clear that he was the guy, but I was able to confirm it later. And he told me about the whole situation. It turns out, he was homeless. He was living in his van. But he was someone who loved shooting guns. He went to the shooting ranges on a regular basis. And that night, he just happened to walk into the 7-11. And, he had his pistol, he had a concealed permit, had a pistol on his hip, and just explained in great detail what he did. And that's how we wrote the story. My editor worked with me on it a lot. And I was really pleased with how it turned out. I heard from people all over the country. I heard from people in California, this guy in Guam, because it got picked up all over. You know, the, I mean, the Drudge Report, this very conservative publication, picked it up. And I don't even know where all the people were reading it. I just got tons of emails on that. And I think it was because it was just straight out telling what happened. He told me about what had happened that night, and what led up to that exactly what he was thinking. And I loved doing that story.

Taite Westendorf:
Yeah, there's something about that kind of a fact pattern. There was a super famous case from the 80s. Bernhard Goetz. The guy who shot the people in the subway, and it had a similar element to it. He shot some people that probably had it coming. But did he cross the line? And that debate is a pretty fascinating sort of scenario.

Jane Harper:
Well in this case, the man who shot was a black man and he shot two black men, right? And when they called the police there were two customers in the store and I think at least one employee. And when they called the police he was like, what do I do? I'm a black man with a gun at a 7-11. He was afraid he was gonna get shot when police showed up. And so he ended up taking all the bullets out, putting the gun down, and had his hands up when they came in.

Bassel Khalaf:
Two things, my last questions. We're getting to about 50 minutes and unless you got questions for us. But you brought up Adam Lantz who is a great guy. It's probably good for us if you hype up other prosecutors in the Virginia Beach office. Is there any Broccoletti of prosecutors? Are we just gonna say it's Adam Lantz? If Adam Lance is it, we'll leave it at that.

Jane Harper:
I can't think of anyone in particular.

Bassel Khalaf:
Adam Lantz. All right, cool, so Adam Lantz is the Broccoletti of the prosecutor's office. All right. The last question is...shit I complete fucking forgot. Do you have a question? Because I forgot what my last question was. It was dope though. 

Taite Westendorf:
Are you actually gonna do some editing on this one? This might be the first time we've ever edited a podcast at all. Because I got the sense that you were just gonna cut that out. I think it was a great and productive conversation. And I think we're at 50 minutes now and we need to let Jane get back to her life and get back to work. 

Bassel Khalaf:
So did you have fun? 

Jane Harper:
Oh, I had a wonderful time. 

Bassel Khalaf:
Did we do an okay job? We're not journalists.

Taite Westendorf:
Could you tell that we don't have journalistic training?

Jane Harper: 
Can you tell why I'm a print journalist and not a broadcast journalist.

Bassel Khalaf:
We like to keep it real. So I think we kept the 100 . Jane Harper kept it at 100. Jane, do  you know what 100 means? That's one of the things where you got to keep up to date on what people are saying. 100 like 100%. But then you say it like that, it's not cool anymore.

Taite Westendorf:
Bassel is down with the youth and he knows all the emojis.

Bassel Khalaf:
Hey, LOL, yes. All right, cool. Anything you want to ask us?

Jane Harper:
I think that's it.

Bassel Khalaf:
All right. Jane Harper, it's been a blast.

Jane Harper:
Thanks for having me.

Bassel Khalaf:
Thanks. Thank you for joining. And thank you for being a very, very credible journalist in the Hampton Roads area and for coming to court and actually figuring out what's happening with cases. I've had lengthy conversations with you that have shown that you're somebody who actually cares about what's going on. 

Taite Westendorf:
And telling both sides which is all you can ask as a defense attorney.

Bassel Khalaf:
I definitely appreciate this too, is sometimes right before you post you will text directly to me, my stories, and I'm sure you do it with other attorneys just to say, Hey, here's what's coming out. Is there something about it? That's not correct. And it's that extra level because you don't have to do that. And the fact that you do it means a lot and I've never gotten that text and thought no, this story is skewing it or is not accurate. So thank you for that. And I guess we'll end it at that unless you have some last minute awesome thing to say.

Taite Westendorf:
You keep refusing to close it out. We are done.

Bassel Khalaf:
I'll leave it at that peace.

CONTACT US

Westendorf & Khalaf, PLLC

Virginia Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys

Tel: 757-961-3311

Fax: 757-707-9422

E-Mail: info@wkdefense.com

1 Columbus Center, Suite 600

Virginia Beach, VA 23462

  • google
  • Facebook
  • Instagram

We want to talk to you about your case. Leave your info and we’ll get back to you.