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Appeals court upholds sanctions against litigious entertainer

A Madison children’s entertainer had two appeals denied by a higher court Thursday, upholding a Dane County judge’s decision to impose sanctions against her for bringing a frivolous claim.

Catherine Conrad, who is known as the “Banana Lady” and dresses up as the fruit for events, runs an entertainment company, releasing music and books. She received a trademark for the name “Banana Lady” in 2008, which states that it is used for “educational and entertainment services, namely, providing live performances by a professional entertainer in the field of health and wellness.” She also has a copyright on the name.

Conrad brought a lawsuit against several people and banks in 2012, claiming that several people infringed on her copyright by recording her performance of a “singing birthday telegram” at the Credit Union National Association’s annual conference in 2011 and posting it online.

She also claimed that Todd Streeter, the former chief information officer of the now-defunct AM Community Credit Union, Kenosha, defamed her in an email regarding Conrad’s requests to remove the videos from Facebook. That claim was thrown out by Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust.

But Conrad also brought a suit against Middleton attorney Beth Russell, who had worked with Conrad in the past, for allegedly failing to file a copyright for the “Banana Lady” image, which purportedly would have entitled Conrad to more money in damages in past lawsuits, court filings show.

And though that case was ongoing, Conrad filed another lawsuit against Russell, as well as the firm Peterson, Johnson & Murray SC, who Russell hired to defend her, and Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co., for legal malpractice and breach of contract. Dane County Circuit Judge Shelley Gaylord also threw that lawsuit out, and ordered Conrad to pay $308.26 in sanctions.

On Thursday, the Court of Appeals upheld the rejection of both of Conrad’s claims and the sanctions that Gaylord imposed. It threw out the case involving the banks. The court also stated that Conrad’s arguments against the insurance company – she said it “acted in bad faith and breached its fiduciary duty by failing to settle Conrad’s claim within Russell’s policy limits” – are “wholly lacking in merit.” The same reasoning applied to Conrad’s claim against Peterson, Johnson & Murray, the opinion states.

“Conrad’s complaint is so woefully inadequate that any reasonable person, even untrained in law, should have recognized that it had no basis in law,” states the opinion in the case against Russell.

Russell declined to comment Thursday. Mike Crooks, the attorney with Peterson, Johnson & Murray SC, did not immediately return a phone call.

Conrad, who represented herself in the case, declined to comment on the appellate court’s decision.

Conrad and her business partners have been at the heart of several lawsuits at the circuit and federal level in recent years. They also unsuccessfully filed suit against the same parties in federal court after the state court cases were thrown out.

About Eric Heisig

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