Despite pleas from their opposing attorneys, a judge did not send a pair of litigious Madison pro se plaintiffs to jail for violating his court order in an already closed lawsuit.
During a hearing Monday afternoon, Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson found Rodney Rigsby and Quincy Neri in contempt of court for the second time in two months after the pair continued to litigate a case he expressly told them not to. He ordered them to pay attorney’s fees, which will be determined at a later date, and refined a previous order making it clear the pair cannot file anything further against the defendants before paying court costs and getting permission from the judge.
But Markson expressed reservations about sending the pair to jail, citing existing case law and also saying that he hopes that a second contempt finding will be enough to dissuade the pair from continuing their tactics.
Rigsby, a cartoonist, and Neri, a glassblower and painter, have made a name for themselves, along with children’s performer Catherine “The Banana Lady” Conrad, by amassing 27 lawsuits against 108 defendants, with many parties being sued more than once in state and federal court. Most have been unsuccessful, though, and the trio has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in judgments, sanctions and court costs. Almost all of it is still unpaid.
The lawsuit in question stems from a piece of art titled Mendota Reflection, which was commissioned in 2008 as part of the remodeling of a Madison condominium. Neri worked on the project and copyrighted it along with Rigsby. According to court papers, the contractor for the remodeling, Architectural Building Arts Inc., used project photos, in which Mendota Reflection can be seen in the background, on its website and for a competition.
Seven lawsuits have been filed over the piece of art, including the one in question Monday. Twenty-one defendants are named in that suit, including attorneys, their law firms and insurance providers for multiple claims.
Markson dismissed the suit in February 2013, and the Court of Appeals affirmed his decision in March. The appellate court also ordered Markson to enjoin Neri from filing and ordered her to pay attorney’s fees. Markson delivered that order orally in July and entered the written judgment in August.
But after a hearing in July, Rigsby and Neri filed default motions for judgment on multiple insurance providers for $100 million plus interest. They also called the providers to check on the status of their claims, though they told Markson on Monday that they were calling for other cases.
Nevertheless, all of the attorneys involved in the case asked for Markson to impose jail time. Timothy Barber, an attorney with Axley Brynelson LLP, Madison, and a defendant in the case, said Monday that the pair will not stop otherwise.
“I have never asked for this before, but I really do not think this behavior is going to stop unless the court does so,” Barber said of his request for jail time. “If we leave here today without that, I anticipate there’s going to be another motion filed in this case and we’ll be right back here a third time.”
Cathleen Dettman, an attorney with Haley Palmersheim SC, Madison, and a defendant, echoed Barber’s statements, asking the judge to further restrict the pair from filing until they pay their fees.
“All the rest of us cannot keep coming back here all the time because these people, frankly, apparently, don’t have anything else to do with their time,” Dettman said.
Throughout the hearing, Neri and Rigsby did not deny contacting the insurance providers, but reiterated that it was done for work on other pending cases, some of which involve the attorneys named as defendants.
Neri, for her part, also tried to argue to the judge that the actions she took toward the insurance providers were done so because she is a pro se plaintiff. And Rigsby told Markson that creating and protecting his intellectual property is “my life.”
“Regardless of what they think or don’t think, this is my life,” Rigsby said. “And I’m fighting for it every day, every hour.”
During the hearing, a frustrated Markson called the request for jail time “serious” but “well intentioned,” even if he declined to impose it. He pointed the defendant attorneys to existing case law and statutes they can use prior to filing another motion, if needed.
He also said multiple times that the case is over, and that there is nothing else that can — or should — be done.
“I hope we will not be back here again,” Markson said. Follow @eheisigWLJ