Monday, July 23, 2007

Stalking Attorneys

One of the more popular lawyer jokes on the internet is a document purporting to be a "Attorney Hunting License." However, in a more serious vein, a copyrighted story in the San Diego North County Times reports that the practice of law is becoming much more dangerous and many attorneys are now reporting incidences of stalking by their former clients.1

Psychologist Linda Bounds defines stalking as follows in her online article, “Stalkers Not Just For Celebrities Anymore.”2

“So what is stalking? There are both legal and clinical definitions. Legal definitions are intended to help articulate specific aspects of behavior in order to facilitate prosecution or other legal remedies. In contrast, the purpose of clinical definitions is to identify aspects of stalking behavior in order aid in understanding the phenomenon for the purposes of assessment, treatment and research into both stalkers and their victims.

“Legal definitions of stalking vary across jurisdictions, but most US statutes share three elements: 1) a pattern or course of conduct of intruding behaviorally on another person in a way that is unwelcome; 2) an implicit or explicit threat that is evidenced in the pattern of behavioral intrusion; and 3) as a result of these behavioral intrusions, the person who is threatened experiences reasonable fear.

“Bridging the gap between legal and clinical definitions, Reid Meloy, who is one of the leading experts on stalking, adapted language from Zona, Sharma and Lane (1993) to propose a clinical definition of stalking as “obsessional following,” characterized by “an abnormal or long term pattern of threat or harassment directed toward a specific individual,” and consisting of “more than one overt act of unwanted pursuit of the victim that was perceived as being harassing.” …. As Meloy (1998) states, “The crime of stalking does not include any physically violent acts; it was, in fact, codified to prevent future acts of violence.”

Later in the same article, Bounds observes that stalkers are not necessarily deranged people hiding in the shrubbery and peeking through windows:

“Initiating spurious legal action against the victim is a frequent strategy that both insures contact and harasses and disrupts the life of the victim. False rumors to discredit the victim can also have highly disruptive effects in the victim’s life, and are often difficult to trace. Threats can come in many forms, ranging from damage to property, pets or reputation, to direct threats of violence to the victim and his/her family members.”

Oklahoma statutes define stalking as any pattern of activity which would cause a reasonable person or a member of the immediate family of that person to feel frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested and actually causes the person being followed or harassed to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested … Among the acts forbidden by the statute are appearing at the workplace of the victim or even appearing in public in sight of the victim in a malicious manner. Stalking is a misdemeanor in Oklahoma punishable by up to one year in jail and a one thousand dollar fine for the first offense.

Both courts and bar associations nationwide are beginning to take client stalking much more seriously in the wake of several recent shootings and other violent events in courtrooms and on court house grounds. The Oklahoma statute should be modified as soon as possible to specifically include cyber-stalking and other forms of “paper harassment” and provide enhanced punishment for stalking or harassment of officers of the court.




Post a Comment

<< Home