America’s top injury attorneys Cellino & Barnes in the throes of a messy split after Ross Cellino Jr filed a lawsuit against partner, Stephen Barnes, and their law firm on May 10
Ross M. Cellino Jr, 59, filed the suit against 58-year-old partner, Stephen E. Barnes with hopes of dissolving the popular partnership
The rift reportedly, stems from the duo’s conflicting personalities and has been festering for some time
Insiders tell stories of office hook-ups, nepotism and bad karma
Some described Barnes as a ‘shark’ and Cellino as ‘more laid back’ which has led to shouting matches in the conference room
Reports also said the two have bad blood between them after Barnes refused to hire his partner’s daughter Jeanna Cellino, 30, in 2012 to avoid nepotism
Aggrieved dad, Cellino, saw employment blockade as hypocritical since Barnes’ girlfriend Ellen Sturm and his brother, Richard Barnes, have worked at the firm for several years
Members of local bar are not ‘shedding a tear’ over the duo since they made their bones allegedly, through a strategy of ‘purposefully attempt[ing] to take clients away’ from them
Personal injury lawyers Ross Cellino Jr [left] and Stephen Barnes [right]
Ross M. Cellino Jr, 59, and 58-year-old partner, Stephen E. Barnes – ‘Cellino and Barnes’, thanks to the infectious jingle that has made their personal injury law firm a household name, have been in joint practice for decades. The millionaire attorneys began their partnership in the mid-1990s.
But on May 10, Mr. Cellino filed a lawsuit against his partner, Barnes and their law firm, in the Erie County branch of the New York State Supreme Court, with hopes of dissolving the practice.
High profile injury lawyer, Ross Cellino Jr [left] filed a lawsuit against partner, Stephen Barnes [right], and their law firm May 10, with hopes of dissolving the partnership.
Earlier reports speculated the rift was due to ‘years of hard feelings’ between the pair since Barnes refused to hire his partner’s daughter, Jeanna Cellino, after the 30-year-old graduated from University of Buffalo Law school in 2012, to avoid nepotism. On the other hand, Barnes’s girlfriend Ellen Sturm, has worked at the firm for a number of years, as does his brother, Richard J. Barnes.
Jeanna Cellino, now works for the personal injury law firm of Steve Boyd, John Elmore.
But some close associates of both principals, as do several members of the Buffalo legal community, believe the rift is part of a deeper problem over the direction of the firm, simmering for some time. Indeed as Buffalo News reports, Barnes’s refusal to hire Jeanna Cellino daughter caused two years of bad blood between the partners.
Ross Cellino [left], apparently has been smarting since his law partner, Barnes refused to hire his daughter, Jeanna Cellino, [right], to avoid nepotism
In the opinion of one member of the local Buffalo bar: “Stephen Barnes is a businessman, he is a shark. He is not a guy that takes no for an answer,” he observed.
“He is far more aggressive, cold, and calculating than Ross Cellino who is a little bit more laid-back”. The two personal injury lawyers have their photos emblazoned on billboards across the state of New York since the mid-90s. The firm, started by Mr. Cellino’s father, Ross M. Cellino Sr., in 1958 as Cellino & Likoudis, became a powerhouse in the world of personal injury law, with billboards that asked a basic question — “Injured?”— and provided their names and a phone number.
Nepotism? Stephen Barnes’ girlfriend, Ellen Strum [left], and his brother Richard Barnes [right], both have worked at the firm for years
In 2012, the firm changed that number from 854-2020 to the more catchy and memorable, 888-8888.
The firm’s transition to Cellino & Barnes P.C. was made in the mid-1990s, creating the new partnership specializing in personal injury claims which, at times, have led to multimillion-dollar compensations for their clients.
‘The duo initially built their reputation on the type of aggressive advertising that had competing firms grumbling that Cellino and Barnes were attempting to poach cases away from other lawyers who were already handling them. The firm’s catchy jingle, ‘888 8888’ phone number and widespread commercials and billboard ads became a fixture across the New York state.
In 2005, a New York appellate court ruled that Ross Cellino Jr. be suspended from practicing law for six months and Stephen Barnes was censured after they loaned money to clients through a separate business they set up.
‘Barnes is very aggressive. Ross Cellino, especially in the last couple of years, has become more: “Do we really need to do that? Can we try to get along with people more?”
‘They have had major blow-ups at the firm. I’ve heard from a couple of lawyers there about shouting matches taking place in conference rooms and that type of behavior.
‘I can’t imagine that there’s any lawyers in Western New York who are shedding a tear for what’s going on.
Stephen Barnes allegedly passed on the opportunity to hire his partner’s daughter into firm ‘to avoid nepotism.’ Although his girlfriend Ellen Sturm [right], has worked at the firm for years. His brother also works at the firm
Ross Cellino and Stephen Barnes have grown the law firm they established in the mid-1990s into a very successful practice, which has made a fortune for both partners.
However, a legal battle could have serious consequences for the firm which has about 400 employees and offices spread from Buffalo and New York City to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, leaving legal pundits shaking their heads and wondering what the real reasons behind the quest for a dissolution could be.
‘It’s rumored that Steve Barnes is more aggressive on having a national footprint than Ross Cellino who is willing to stay in New York state and wasn’t even enthusiastic about entering the five boroughs of New York City,’ a source noted.
An Investigative counsel on that case said they: ” found that [Cellino and Barnes] were making loans to other clients and also having some clients invest in the company that was making the loans. There was all kinds of terrible conflicts of interest that they got themselves involved in.
‘During the proceeding, they admitted most of it because the record spoke for itself. Ross Cellino was suspended for about six months although he didn’t get back into the practice for about two years.”
‘They are a high-profile firm, they advertise extensively – from my knowledge, I think their advertising budget was $3 million a year.
‘But they are not a well-liked firm because there’s been allegations in the past about them allegedly stealing clients from other firms. The other personal injury firms must be very pleased to see this ‘divorce’.
‘I can’t imagine what it’s doing to their associate attorneys. They have to be beside themselves, taking sides and all that.’
The firm claims on its website to have made more than $2 billion for its clients who have brought personal injury cases such as car accidents, industrial accidents and plane crashes.
They are headquartered in downtown Buffalo and also have a satellite office in the city – across the street from the Erie County Medical Center.