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Banana Lady loses again in court

In a photo included in an April 14Court of Appeals decision, Catherine Conrad is seen performing as“The Banana Lady.” (Photo from public court records)

In a photo included in an April 14
Court of Appeals decision, Catherine Conrad is seen performing as “The Banana Lady.” Conrad lost her breach of contract and malpractice lawsuit Thursday against Madison-based Bell, Moore & Richter SC. (Photo from public court records)

A Dane County circuit judge threw out another case Thursday afternoon from a litigious Madison entertainer who performs as “The Banana Lady.”

Catherine Conrad – who has no law degree yet is representing herself – filed suit against Bell, Moore & Richter SC in January 2013, alleging the law firm and its insurers were liable for breach of contract and malpractice because they did not perform work they were hired to do. Conrad alleged that included representing her in litigation against those that she believes infringed on her work.

This is the third such suit Conrad has filed against the Madison law firm.

“Pleasant Rowland started here,” Conrad said, in reference to the creator of the American Girl brand, who lives in Madison. “Granted, her husband gave her $1 million to start her American doll, which she sold … for $770 million. I was on that same career path.”

But Judge Frank Remington said he did not see a claim with merit in all of the court filings she submitted.

“You may have a case. I don’t see it,” he said. “And … I would be eager to await the testimony of an expert who would explain it to me.”

Remington threw out the case Thursday and ruled in favor of the law firm. He said he threw out the case because Conrad did not have an expert to talk about why Bell, Moore & Richter was negligent.

A formal order is forthcoming.

Michael Vescio, an attorney with SmithAmundsen LLC representing Bell, Moore & Richter, declined to comment after the hearing. Conrad declined as well.

Conrad, along with her business partners Quincy Neri and Rodney Rigsby, have made a name for themselves in the past few years by repeatedly suing over supposed misuse of intellectual property they own. They also have filed suits against several attorneys and law firms, claiming the defendants owe money to the trio for either failing to settle while they were defending a client or not doing work to help secure victories in court.

Members of the trio were able to obtain settlements in some of their early cases, but the vast majority have been thrown out by state and federal judges in Madison. Judges have shown disdain for their tactics by imposing, as of March, $150,000 in judgments. About $80 of that has been paid so far.

Neri and Rigsby sat behind Conrad during Thursday’s hearing. Rigsby told a reporter, “We’ll see you next round” as he walked away from the courtroom.

During the hour-long hearing, Remington went to great lengths to ensure Conrad explained the proceedings. The judge noted he had read recent decisions – including one by 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner that stated that Conrad has committed “an abuse of the legal process” – but did his best to set those aside in deciding the case at hand.

“I’ve been trying to approach … the present motions of summary judgment without regard to what anyone thinks you’ve done in any other case,” Remington told Conrad.

He pointed out that Conrad had not served Bell, Moore & Richter’s insurers with the lawsuit. She said she thought she could email the company the petition, but Remington said that it was clear she knew the law and knew that a process server needed to deliver it.

He also got her to concede that there was no written contract between her and the law firm.

Remington noted that Conrad did a “very good job” in her pleadings and that she is a good writer, but said he still had to ask whether the suit was about poor work on the part of the attorneys or the fact that they didn’t complete it to her liking.

“To me, it’s the same. It was shoddy work and they didn’t finish it,” Conrad said, explaining that she lost out on potential settlements because the firm’s attorneys didn’t do work that she wanted them to do.

Still, Remington said that if the case went to trial, a jury would need to hear from an expert on whether what Bell, Moore & Richter did constituted malpractice. Conrad said she had difficulty finding one because of conflicts of interest – both because she was suing the law firm and because of litigation that involved other attorneys.

Vescio said very little during the proceedings, though it was clear the judge agreed with his arguments.

About 15 minutes into Thursday’s arguments, though, Vescio made his position very clear.

“No more attention or time should be spent on this frivolousness,” he said.

About Eric Heisig

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