Keeping them at bay Featured

1:12pm EDT July 28, 2005
We’ve all heard the horror stories: a celebrity arrives home only to find a stalker has broken into his house and is waiting for him.

But in this era of high-profile CEOs, stalking is no longer exclusively aimed at movie stars and rock bands, says Michael Plonsker, an attorney with Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP who has represented numerous celebrities in stalking cases.

Smart Business spoke with Plonsker about the risks executives face and how they should deal with the problem.

How big a problem is executive stalking?

When someone has a stalker, it is obviously a very serious problem. Whether it’s on the upswing or downswing, it’s really difficult to tell because stalking incidents are not highly publicized until they get into court. Typically, people who are stalked don’t make it a public issue. So it’s difficult to judge how many executives are stalked each year.

What problems can having a stalker pose?

It depends on the activity of the stalker. If someone has a stalker who is active and is trying to make physical contact, or [the stalker] is someone who could physically injure you, then it is very serious. If the stalker is someone who is simply writing letters, it may not be an issue, depending on how aggressive the letters are. It also depends upon who the person is who is being stalked.

If you’re a celebrity and you receive fan letters, and the fan letters become repeated and insistent and more threatening, then it’s something that needs to be taken into consideration and the person needs to be taken more seriously.

If the person begins to make physical contact, then it’s a much more serious issue and needs to be dealt with, either with the courts or with the police.

How many different types of stalking are there?

Stalking can run the gamut, from telephone calls, letters, physical contact, trying to see someone in a public place; a stalker can try to make contact at a home or a place of work. It can run the gamut from innocuous to very, very serious.

What steps can someone take to protect themselves?

Again, it depends on how serious the acts are by the stalker. If they are serious and threatening, call the police. The steps that an attorney would take would be to seek a restraining order. Once the restraining order is in place and it’s violated, the police are more likely to get involved.

There are also security companies that specialize in protecting people in the public eye. There are security measures that can be utilized at home and at work, including alarm systems, barriers like security fences and video cameras. At your business, security guards can monitor communications from e-mail, the Internet and the mail system.

How effective are restraining orders?

The restraining order is a court order. Anybody can violate a court order, but there are consequences. The consequences of a restraining order against harassment are that people can be arrested.

Can you provide an example of a stalking case you were involved with and how it was resolved?

Among others, I represented Meg Ryan when she was being stalked by an individual who believed that he was her husband. He was arrested and institutionalized after having broken into someone’s house, named Ryan, but not connected to Meg, believing that it was Meg’s house.

I represented Michael Jackson many years ago in connection with a stalker who believed she was Billy Jean from his songs. She was incarcerated a number of times.

How would that translate to the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company?

Most people obviously aren’t concerned about stalkers until they are stalked. And once they are stalked, they need to take it seriously and talk to some of the experts who deal with these issues, such as lawyers, security companies, even psychiatrists are getting involved in some of these disputes to try to figure out whether the stalker constitutes a danger.

Michael Plonsker is an attorney with Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP. Reach him at (310) 255-9185 or mplonsker@agsk.com.