On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (2023)

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Battered egos, stacks of cash, and the bitter feud that led to Cellino & Barnes, New York's absurdly ubiquitous accident law firm.

Von jeremy kutner

Ross Cellino, enlaces y Steve Barnes.Photo Illustration: Joe Darrow

On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (1)

Ross Cellino, enlaces y Steve Barnes.Photo Illustration: Joe Darrow

On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (2)

Ross Cellino, enlaces y Steve Barnes.Photo Illustration: Joe Darrow

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Steve Barnes was furious. Over the past 25 years, he's helped transform a small Buffalo personal injury law firm into a New York institution, with staggering profits and an advertising empire so widespread you'll wonder if everyone involved in an accident in the state is how would you end up customer. But now everything he had built threatened to collapse. How could anyone, particularly his own partner Ross Cellino, want to turn off the green rivers that flow into his vaults? It was April 2017, and Barnes's emails seethed with frustration, each one a verbal jab at his partner linked by an ampersand and thousands of TV, radio and billboard ads.

“We have done over 10 each in the last two years with nothing but blue skies ahead. What part of him are you dissatisfied with? Barnes wrote to his partner. (The “10+”: they are millions of dollars each). “Do you know any other lawyers that make $10 a year? I am not."

It's not nice. Not in Buffalo, that's for sure. And hardly anywhere else in the vast legal underworld of personal injury firms where correctness gives way to inescapable billboards, catchy jingles, and open-ended commercials trumpeting skill better than any competitor.OfMoney. Cellino & Barnes presided there: Barnes, the ex-Marine with the deep voice and surprising intensity, and Cellino, the cute-looking everyman with the nerdy glasses. TELEVISION. Radio. Bus stop. subway tickets Everyone knew Cellino & Barnes; most people even knew that Barnes was the bald guy with the forced smile who stared too much into the camera and that Cellino wasn't, well, the bald guy.

And the jingle. Good god,or jingle. Even if he never dreamed of entrusting his legal representation to an advertiser, she settled into his brain and never left. Eight hundred, eight, eight, eight, eight, eight, eight, eight. In New York City, Cellino & Barnes was as familiar as Yellow Cabs, Halal Carts, or "Showtime!"

Yet in front of their legions of potential clients, the two men had disagreed for years about the need for autonomy and decision-making power, family, the search for expansion, and respect. When their rivalry went public later that spring after Cellino filed a petition to dissolve the company, he exposed the tightly controlled innards of Cellino & Barnes and drew countless onlookers. There would be trials, appeals, affidavits, so many affidavits, and, of course, billboards (and a billboard lawsuit). There have been stories in the tabloids about Cellino accusing Barnes of being "dictatorial", about how Cellino said the team should follow him, the duo's first name, because "nobody calls his bike Davidson". Colleagues would testify. As well as significant others, assistants and accountants.

The fight revealed more than just money laundering and hurt feelings. It captures the birth and rise of one of the most cartoonish branches of law: a pop culture staple that often earns a reputation for ambulance-chasing, but also delivers on its promise of being one of the most direct ways to do business. justice. and fair compensation for the less powerful members of society. It's a world that won't be ending anytime soon, even as the men who elevated the New York car crash trial to a kind of art have joined the ranks of the injured.

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    (Video) Cellino Barnes Car Accident Attorneys

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The two men joinedCoincidentally, Cellino's father, Ross Sr., had hung a mosaic in the more sober legal world of the Ox of the 1950s. He was the son of a poor farmer and desperate for stability. When he died last year, his memorial utility included an abbreviated list of the jobs he held until retirement: cardboard factory worker, cone maker, waiter, bookkeeper, and worker "at Bethlehem Steel on the big cold saw that caused him part-time hearing loss. through 'loud noise.

Steel worked nights to pay for law school during the day. The firm he founded with a local attorney took anything that came in: real estate, criminal cases, funds, some personal injury. Whatever it was he paid the bills for Cellino Sr.'s growing brood of nine children.

As Cellino Jr. (longer-than-expected, blushing, eventually father of six) graduated from law school, Buffalo wasn't exactly a golden land of opportunity. As he told me at his table before the pandemic, he worked only DWI and real estate cases his first year in the early 1980s: 80 hour weeks for $9,000 a year. He was intrigued by the ads some lawyers put in the local yellow pages. Full page views, back cover for about $100,000. He took out some of the lawyers behind the lunch ads, but when he started asking questions, they tried to push the young candidate away by minimizing the focus. No, they told him, it wasn't worth it. Don't worry.

The rejection only cheered him up. Cellino bought an ad the size of a business card. Then half a page and more. Nothing special. If the ads raised just one $300,000 case, he argued, that would be $100,000 in legal fees. "He encouraged me to be more aggressive," he told me. His competitors, he said, lied. The ads worked.

Eventually, Cellino began working with his father. When it came time for his father's retirement in the early 1990s, Cellino and his father's associates were eager to find offspring. A local lawyer named Richard Barnes made a suggestion: What about his little brother, Steve?

Steve Barnes was the guy who graduated from law school.SoHe enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was a military lawyer and briefly served in a tank battalion in Kuwait during the Gulf War. Barnes says his decision to come forward was an initial compulsion. "Almost analogous to a woman's desire to give birth," he says. "Maybe that's one of the reasons why people have been involved in so many wars for so many millennia, because of this innate desire in people to fight each other and have that experience in their lives." That's what Rich Barnes once told Buffalo.Newsthat his brother can be a driven guy: "He works out to be in top physical shape. He'll run 50 miles from Buffalo to Ellicottville with a 60-pound weight on his back. He's done this many times.

Steve was working at a large corporate defense agency when the Cellino company approached him about working with them. It was a small operation, but it wasn't just a job, it was a chance to share the pot: a chance to do something big. Cellino recalls that the day after the initial interview, Barnes called and asked if the company had made a decision. Cellino loved raw aggression. "that must be the right oneCellino says he thought. "I was like that too. I wanted to grow up."

Although Cellino later cultivated the image of a family man, his early hunger was palpable. Michael Beebe, a former BuffaloNewsReporter, remember having met Cellino when he succeeded his father. "He got a list of all the people who owed his father and his father money and went after them," Beebe says. “I had a case with a poor man on the East Side of Buffalo who claimed that this lawyer was after him to pay his old rent and old water bills and things like that. So I met Ross very briefly and he was like, 'Look, you owe my dad money. I'm here and I'll get my money back. It didn't matter how poor this guy was.

Barnes signed it. Finally, the Old Guard left. Like Cellino & Barnes, the duo made a critical decision: thereafter it has always been the law of infringement. This meant that cases had to be accepted based on odds: the client did not pay upfront and the lawyers kept a third of their winnings less costs. But injured customers are generally not regular customers (unless they are really unlucky or bad drivers). So, to grow, the company needed a lot of cases.

On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (9)
On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (10)

From the left:A photoshopped image of Paris and Nicky Hilton posted on Twitter in 2017Michael Breen and David Rafailedes created and starred in the Off-Broadway playCellin contra Barnesin July 2019.Photo: André Breen

From the left:A photoshopped image of Paris and Nicky Hilton posted on Twitter in 2017Michael Breen and David Rafailedes created and starred in Off B... From the left:A photoshopped image of Paris and Nicky Hilton posted on Twitter in 2017Michael Breen and David Rafailedes created and starred in the Off-Broadway playCellin contra Barnesin July 2019.Photo: André Breen

First of all,Cellino and Barnes listened to Morris Bart, a New Orleans lawyer who was beginning to dominate the local airwaves. They flew down to see it. His advice was simple and insightful: if you want to be successful, find out how much your main competitor is spending on ads and double that.

Bart, whose practice now spends more than $25 million a year on advertising, upholds that wisdom. "In hindsight, it was pretty easy," he says. "You're making money, you're advertising, and the phone rings." But when Bart started out, he was revolutionary. Traditionally, the law has an aura of public service; that lawyers not advertise was an ethical pillar of the profession. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, a series of changes aimed at giving more people access to justice: the right to legal aid for poor defendants, the expanded use of powerful "class actions" to bring lawsuits and a greater consumer mentality. . government-oriented – created an environment that opened the door for legal advertising. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of a "legal clinic," a law firm specializing in low-cost, routine legal assistance. The clinic's lawyers wanted to advertise their prices so that the average person could make a wise decision. The court agreed under the First Amendment, and the advertising restrictions on lawyers were lifted. "No one thought personal injury lawyers would use attorney advertising," says Nora Engstrom, a professor at Stanford Law School, "including the Supreme Court."

But in the 1990s, the legal public became an obvious avenue for busy lawyers, thanks to pioneers like Bart, and Cellino and Barnes were all there. Following Bart's advice, they invested much of their profits in advertising.

In 1997, five years after Barnes was hired, his firm had only three attorneys. So they decided to hire Daryl Ciambella, who is not a lawyer and has an MBA, to write a business plan and develop some TV commercials.

"It showed how brave they were," says Mark Cantor, a local attorney who has worked with Rich Barnes. He remembers hearing that the company was taking all of his fees for a $3 million deal and using it to run ads. “When lawyers made cases for a lot of money, you took the money. You didn't take a penny of it. It was amazing to have so much faith in advertising.”

Cantor wasn't the only Buffalo attorney to take notice. Other local lawyers complained that their clients were being lured in by Cellino & Barnes' aggressive advertising. "It annoys most of the lawyers in Western New York," complained one personal injury attorney. "They are financially successful, not because of the good work done on previous cases, but because of the publicity of the cases."

The company's appeal only increased after the partners commissioned their jingle: grand but gentle, enthusiastic but sweet. Undeniably catchy, though there are no rhymes or anything special other than how relentless it has been portrayed on TV and radio. "Cello and Barnes. Injury Lawyers" and then the phone number. (In later versions, they omitted the "the".) The jingle sparked asinging challengebetween Broadway casts and a parodySaturday night live.When the spread of COVID-19 prompted public health advisories to wash your hands long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice, the Cellino & Barnes Twitter account suggested a much nicer song. As Chrissy Teigen tweeted her devastation at the news ofThe separation of Cellino and BarnesThe reason was clear: “Music sucks right now. We have to pick them up."

Barnes is a little less romantic. "The jingles work," he says. "Is there a great magic to it? I don't know. I think our jingle was talked about more because lawyers didn't make jingles and now lawyers make jingles.

(Video) 'Cellino & Barnes ' Bitter Breakup

On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (11)
On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (12)

From the left:Alex Moffatt and Kyle Mooney appear as Cellino and BarnesSNLin March 2019The erotic Cellino & Barnes fan art you never wanted

From above:Alex Moffatt and Kyle Mooney appear as Cellino and BarnesSNLin March 2019The erotic Cellino & Barnes fan art you never wanted

even with the adThe company probably would never have reached the height it is today without one person: a tool and mold maker named Mark Rappold.

Rapold doesn't trust easily. He had seen some commercials for the company on television. He, too, had seen the billboards. But he didn't think of that when he and his wife learned in 1998 that his son David had been seriously injured in a high-speed car accident. David had just finished his first year of law school. His friend was driving down the New York State Thruway with David in the passenger seat; The friend changed lanes and cut off the car behind him. Angered, the guy in the other car fired up and followed close behind. The car behind him sped into the other lane and his friend sped up and kept up with him. The police would call this "street etiquette". At 85 mph, the other car pulled over and braked. The friend swerved, lost control, and turned into the median. The car crashed into a tree.

David had massive brain damage. “He is substantially paralyzed on the left side of his body,” an appeals court wrote in 2001. “Due to his cognitive and/or physical limitations, he is unable to support or care for himself, walk, or use a wheelchair. motorized wheels. "He only speaks a few words and communicates by blinking, making hand gestures and nodding."

Rapold didn't know what was in store for David or the rest of his family. But he knew that he needed a lawyer right away. Without justice for his son, there would be no way he could pay the steep medical and rehabilitation bills that awaited him. Rappold wasn't impressed by the first lawyer he met, but a neighbor mentioned the boy in the ad, a nice guy he went to school with: Ross Cellino.

Rapold drove unannounced to Cellino on a Sunday afternoon. Cellino painted his house. His wife was a gardener. "He says, 'Can I help you?' ", recalls Rapold. "I say, 'Yeah, I'm looking for a lawyer because my son was in a tragic car accident.' Well, he dropped everything to talk to me. I mean, he didn't even think twice.

The relationship was instant. "You don't even know he's a lawyer," says Rapold. "You don't even know. He speaks as one person.

When Rappold met Steve Barnes a few days later, he seemed like the perfect Cellino match. “He was the opposite of Ross. I could tell he was driven by power," says Rappold. But it worked. "They complemented each other very well, I'll say that right away. Steve, man... I could really wreck someone on the stand. And Cellino delivered the kind of closing statement that melted the jury. "No one could speak to the jury like Ross Cellino," recalls Rappold. “The way he spoke to them, the way he looked at them, the way he dressed them. - Mister. and Mrs. Doesn't Rapold deserve a chance to have a life of his own? But without the resources to help them, they can't live their own lives."

Cellino and Barnes told Rappold ahead of time that they wanted to ask for $55 million. Rappold found a lot of money ridiculous, even greedy. The trial would result in one of the largest personal injury lawsuits New York has ever seen: $47 million. As the Buffalo personal injury attorney, who is not a fan of the firm, who says it "really destroyed what was a very tight-knit community here among the plaintiffs' attorneys," said, "That [trial] was the indicator. After other than that, it was limitless.”

In the hallway after the verdict, Cellino and Barnes celebrated with the firm's attorneys and paralegals. Rapold was not one of them. "I would give every cent of this process to get my son back," he says. Eventually, Cellino noticed Rappold's pain, Rappold says. "I know this is an empty victory for you," he said. Steve cheered.

An appeals court would lower the verdict to $16 million. The money still supports David Rappold's care, but it hasn't made her rich. The company ended up receiving $5.5 million and some valuable publicity.

After the trial, the company grew rapidly. In 2002, he opened a field office in Buffalo, across from the region's largest emergency room. The branch has two huge red billboards that light up at night. In 2005 it had 40 lawyers. "It was like a hospital waiting room," says Beebe, a former Buffalo employee.NewsHead office reporter in Buffalo. “People were coming in on crutches and in wheelchairs, and everyone wanted their money.” The company had branched out into mass crime, taking on large numbers of people who suffered heart attacks and strokes after taking the prescription drug Vioxx.

Business was good, and not just because of the names on the door. In 2004, one of the company's top earners, Joseph Dietrich III, made nearly $1 million, a figure we know about because when Dietrich left the company the following year and took his customers with him, the company sued, alleging that all the victims of the accident had become customers due to his advertising campaign. This process also highlighted the sometimes aggressive tactics the company would use to maximize revenue. When clients left to seek alternative representation, Cellino & Barnes often sued, demanding that the deal be cancelled, despite the fact that the firm itself had developed what a judge in a court case described as "a reputation for defrauding the clients".

But it was the company's efforts to maximize its customers' paydays that would land it in more serious trouble. After Rapold's trial, Cellino & Barnes retained outside counsel to prevent the verdict from being reduced, and charged the Rapolds $300,000 for their services. The Rapolds, who just wanted to settle down and move on, were upset to find that their lawyers were urging them to extend the fight. Rappold filed a complaint with the Complaints Commission of the Public Ministry.

Vincent Scarsella led the investigation for the committee. When he first looked at the case, he didn't see anything wrong with the billing. But when investigators dug through the files, they found something else: The company had lent money to clients at interest rates ranging from 19 percent to 24 percent, first through a mortgage company it bought in 1994 and then through through an agreement with a company owned by Cellinos. Cousin. .

Lawyers routinely fund clients' legal costs, such as attorney fees and expert witness fees, with the expectation that they will be reimbursed if the lawsuit is successful. But they shouldn't lend clients money in exchange for a potential settlement, a settlement that could leave them in debt to the very lawyers who should be working on their behalf. In fact, there is a whole industry ofOthersCompanies that lend money to plaintiffs in exchange for a portion of an eventual settlement, often at interest rates of up to 50%. These loans are legal because they are "non-recourse," meaning the applicant does not have to pay them back if the lawsuit fails.

According to Scarsella, Cellino and Barnes tried to present their actions as "altruistic" because they offered lower interest rates on their loans than other companies. But he thought such arrangements presented a clear conflict of interest, especially when he learned that the Rapolds had received help from Cellino & Barnes not only to pay for David's infirmary but also to build a cabin. The judges who heard the case were unanimous: they condemned Cellino and Barnes for granting loans with interest to clients in which both lawyers were involved. stopped as soon as they learned the practice was not allowed.)

The judges also found a second violation: a retainer agreement Cellino had with a new client did not match the agreement the company had with the client. Cellino attempted to explain this away as an honest mistake, saying that he accidentally signed a preprinted retainer agreement, but the judges concluded that he submitted the wrong document, a much more serious matter. Barnes ended with a rebuke. Cellino was sanctioned for six months.

Cellino flatly stated that he had not done anything dishonest. Even Scarsella, who agrees with the court, finds it unfair that the public sees Cellino in a worse light. "I think they were both there," he said. "I don't agree that either of them was the mentor or anything. The facts have not shown that, and that is not the conclusion of the court."

Cellino's suspension rocked the company. "It was almost like a death," says a former employee. "Everyone felt bad that he was responsible for everything. He was kind of a scapegoat for it. Before they knew what the final decision would be, Cellino and Barnes took steps to ensure their practice would survive even if they were both suspended. To keep a recognizable name at the door, they approached Barnes' brother, Rich, tempted him with a hefty salary, $350,000, and a 10 percent discount on his case fees, and ran new ads to anticipate a future like that. of Barnes to prepare. Company.

On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (13)
On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (14)
On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (15)

The famous billboard reaches meme status.

The famous billboard reaches meme status.

(Video) Cellino & Barnes Commercial (2008)

Al finalIt took Cellino 19 months to be re-admitted to the bar, while other issues were worked out that were never publicly disclosed. According to his father, he spent much of his time in the professional wilderness doing physical labor: building fences, planting trees and helping with Habitat for Humanity. When Cellino returned to the company, both he and Barnes agreed that his suspension had made a difference. They just didn't agree on how. "I did not expect the drastic impact the suspension would have on Ross and when he was finally reinstated from his suspension, he was a different person," Barnes later said in an affidavit. "The friend and co-owner I knew did not return from suspension. Instead, a drastically changed and affected Ross returned and retired from his previous roles and duties at C&B."

In an email sent after their relationship soured, Barnes went further: "It is extremely ironic that you have become so bitter with me, the only person in your life who has done so." incredibly successful company that left the helm years ago.

Cellino argued that he had the right to return, but that Barnes was far from welcome. In a 2018 filing, he said it took months for Barnes to change the company name again. Upon his return, Cellino continued to participate in many aspects of the company's operation: seeking credit lines from the bank, approving and reducing advertisements, designing strategies for expansion. But he rarely solved his own cases or directed the company's decisions. “I felt guilty because I was making $8 million a year,” he recalls telling Barnes in a meeting, “when I'm not generating income for the company solving cases like I used to.” But he denies having "abdicated" anything.

Part of the problem was Daryl Ciambella, the MBA, whom the partners hired to help build the business. Ciambella was now a leading force in the company, and Cellino felt that Barnes was tending to side with him. "I was basically left out and not allowed to speak my mind," he said in the statement. It was Barnes who changed, Cellino argued, refusing to share control and dismissing his opinion. The idea that he wasn't participating irritated him. "I enjoy coming to the office and interacting with the staff and attorneys," Cellino Barnes said by email. "When you walk into the office, you feel like you're staying in the office and rarely go out to talk to anyone."

Barnes acknowledges that Ciambella's fatherhood was a source of tension with his partner. "In many ways, Daryl was the mastermind behind much of the company's success," she says. "I don't know if Ross doesn't want to admit it. I think he knows it in his heart. He admits that Ciambella "hurt some people the wrong way."

Adding to the tension was Barnes' girlfriend, Ellen Sturm, whom he brought to the firm in 2009. Both Cellino and Barnes agree that Sturm's credentials are impressive, especially for a personal injury lawyer: graduated summa cum laude from the University at Buffalo School of Law, she worked as a trustee clerk at a state appellate judge and later at the court firm Skadden Arps. But Cellino was clearly frustrated with her, claiming that he openly discredited him in front of other lawyers. "When I was approached about Ellen joining the company, he assured me that her relationship with her would not interfere with the running of the company," he said in a 2014 email to Barnes. “The same statement was made about your brother. To his brother's credit, he did not interfere with the company's operations. The same cannot be said of Elena.

On the bitter divorce of Cellino and Barnes (16)

Molly Hager and Max von Essen accept the challenge to sing Cellino & Barnes.

for all the talkof lack of leadership and disrespect, the period after Cellino's suspension was a period of remarkable growth. In 2009, the firm launched a new ad campaign: "When asked which law firm they would hire in the event of an injury accident, 4 out of 5 Western New Yorkers chose Cellino & Barnes over all other law firms," ​​it said. read in the Copy. , followed by a list of recent matches. For Cellino, it showed how far the company had come. "Years ago we didn't have the resources to flaunt ourselves and we did our best to showcase those qualities by choosing our words carefully," he said in an email to Barnes and Ciambella at the time. They finally lived up to their own expectations.

The company opened a Rochester office in 2000, but now things have really taken off. An office in Melville, Long Island opened in 2008. Then Garden City. And then the big move to New York City in 2010. In 2012, the company bought a new phone number: 800-888-8888. It cost $1.8 million. In 2016, Cellino & Barnes spent $12.6 million annually on advertising. The following year, the company bought 45,000 television ads and 15,000 radio ads a month, according to court documents. There were also 600 billboards and bus shelters, not counting internet marketing. The result was more than 55,000 incoming calls a year from potential customers.

Competitors argue that any company handling such a large volume of calls cannot maximize bids for all shared customers. But Cellino & Barnes has developed a framework to handle all cases efficiently and to incentivize the lawyers who have handled them. Each of the firm's 60 or so lawyers was essentially an independent actor. New lawyers started out on a salary, but were expected to pay quickly based on a percentage of the fees they charged.

The former Cellino & Barnes attorneys I spoke with were generally enthusiastic about the firm and proud of their time with them. Many lawyers stayed there for years. The main motivation was clear: you could earn a lot of money. “When I started, they didn't have to sell me. I knew I wanted to work there,” says a former lawyer for the team. "But they released the book showing what everyone did the year before, and you think,My God.These guys make 300, 400, 700 [thousand dollars]. It is quite a unique opportunity associated with a personal injury law firm.

The team's lawyers handed out the schedule. On the scheduled day of intake, they took all calls (a lawyer answered the phone after a quick review) and basically logged all incoming cases. They could be valuable; they could be dog shit.

Available figures for the first nine months of 2015 show that the median value of the nearly 1,900 transactions the company insured was just $20,000, meaning the customer paid $13,333 (net of costs) and the company would only receive $6,666 . The most experienced lawyers received a 10% to 20% discount and the majority of the fees went to the firm. The vast majority of their gains, 77%, came from just 20% of cases. For the top 25 cases, the average settlement was $1 million. A lot of money only comes from rare serious injuries.

"We would consider a 'broken leg' case, where someone literally loses a leg in an accident, "as a valuable case. I'm just using that as an example," says another former attorney on the team. "There may be days where you just b.s. slip and falls come and you've had a bad day at admissions, or you could have a day where you have two incredible cases against a corporate defendant, it was pure luck who called that day.

The more time you spend, the more likely you are to win. "It's a volume business," says the team's former attorney. "You earn as much as you want, really, depending on how hard you want to work." Some Cellino & Barnes attorneys accepted as many as 200 cases at any given time, compared to an average of 30 to 70 cases at a typical corporate law firm.

(Video) Legal Shark Tank - SNL

Stephen Daniels, a senior research professor at the American Bar Foundation, says there's a reason advertising companies take on so many small cases. "You can use this to generate income to cover your overhead," he told me. “It will be the order of the day: dog bites, slip and falls, car accident. And that may allow you to handle some high-profile litigation that is riskier and more expensive, but may result in a much higher reward or settlement.” Only a few companies operate in this way, usually only a few in each geographic area. “Plaintiffs' companies never have a long life. It's a very risky business."

But despite its eat-what-you-kill ethos, lawyers say Cellino & Barnes was still an oddly cool place. "There's a lot of buffalo culture at the company where everyone is very nice, very polite, very Canadian," says one. The firm itself was hyper-organized, with requests for attorneys and a dedicated team in Buffalo to help draft legal documents. Analyzes abounded. Competitors, even those who think the firm isn't working hard enough, admit that Cellino & Barnes had some very talented lawyers.

But a law firm based almost exclusively on advertising can also flirt with exploiting vulnerable groups. After all, these clients are people who choose their lawyers based on a TV ad or a billboard. As one of the outside attorneys for the federal court put it: "Personal injury clients, not to disparage them, are often not the most important clientele."

It was something that worried a lot to one of the ex-lawyers. "'Cellino & Barnes gave me $500,000' is a bit misleading for people who aren't as educated," the lawyer says. "What he always said, if people would call me and say, 'Well, this guy made $500,000,' I'd say, 'But did you look below his waist? He had no legs."

since 2012,In addition to their $500,000-a-year salaries, Cellino and Barnes each took home $5.4 million. That has doubled in five years. (“Stupid amount of money for personal injury lawyers,” says one of the former lawyers.) Barnes has a big lakefront house, and he and Sturm recently bought the property next door. Barnes' great friends seem to take exotic trips to climb mountains and fly their own plane (he recently upgraded from a propeller to a jet). Cellino bought a golf course and began building a family home on the shores of Lake Erie. This project has been described in court documents and interviews with me as a "home", "summer resort" and "Hyannis Port-like site" with trees imported from Japan.

However, as his successes increased, Barnes's ambitions expanded. Discussions began in 2011 about expanding into this idyll of car accident litigation and 40% contingency fees: California. After extensive planning, Cellino largely withdrew, retaining a nominal interest in the business so that it could remain under the Cellino & Barnes umbrella. Barnes went ahead and invested millions of his own money in the project. The LA office opened in early 2014; Oakland and San Diego would follow.

For Cellino, the following year was the beginning of the end. In October 2015, feeling increasing pressure, he asked Ciambella to break down the company's revenue by office. He then approached Barnes with the idea of ​​splitting the responsibilities for him and wrote a long, detailed email that sounded like someone had the nerve to ask for a raise. He suggested a division: Buffalo and Rochester for Cellino, NYC for Barnes. “Buffalo and Rochester are stagnant at best, while New York takes off like a rocket,” he wrote.

At the end of the note, Cellino hinted at deeper emotional forces at play. "I have about 15 years left in my career," he wrote. "I feel the need to control my destiny. I've had a taste of the golf course business a bit, but the profits aren't exactly cause for celebration. You've also experienced a sense of freedom with your air conditioning controls and I'm sure you enjoy 100% control.”

Barnes dismissed the idea. "I don't agree with the concept at all," he told the firm's lawyers by email. But he was afraid. In December of the same year, she sent an email to Anna Marie Cellino, who seemed unaware of what her husband was proposing. "I had a tough meeting with Ross," Barnes told him. "During that meeting, he told me that he wanted a 'divorce' from me and other things that seem less than rational to me since the company is doing better than ever."

tensions rose. Once, men in the office yelled at each other within earshot of the employees. "Why the hell do you want to screw this up when we make $10 million a year?" Everyone remembers Barnes' scream. This was especially upsetting for the employees, since the company had refused to subsidize their health insurance for years.

Since 2012, when his daughter Jeanna received her law degree, Cellino had lobbied her to join the firm, another idea Barnes dismissed. Cellino swears that her split proposal was not about his children. “If the public finds out that I did this for my daughter, that's not true,” he told me emphatically. Still, he found Barnes's objection ridiculous. Barnes' brother and partner were stalwart lawyers, and Cellino's brother-in-law and nephew were also close. Why couldn't Barnes show Cellino's daughter the same consideration? "There was no succession plan between me and Steve," Cellino told me. "If we both got hit by the proverbial bus, honestly, the company would be gone in a matter of days. I mean, the lawyers would leave, join another firm or open their own firm."

When I asked Barnes about his refusal to hire Cellino's daughter, his answer was no less mysterious than what Ross himself told him. “For me, the business model was not such that this was possible,” he says simply. The explanation that made the most sense to me came from a lawyer who knows both men, Marc Panepinto. "It's just an assumption," he told me, "but I think he's thinking, 'I did the right thing to bring you back, but bringing your damn daughters here to keep them company, that's not going to work for me.' ' '

A few weeks after Barnes' intervention with Anna Marie, Cellino tried again. In a lengthy email, he offered a revised split proposal: allow Jeanna to work at the company, but exclude her salary and bonuses, as well as those of family members like Ellen Sturm and Rich Barnes, from the earnings of the company. participation agreement. "I know you think it's all about my kids," Cellino told Barnes. "It really isn't." He also suggested controlling all marketing decisions from the Buffalo office, where a competitor named William Mattar had begun undermining the business with his own catchy name.Slogan("Hurt in the car? Call William Mattar") and a threatening phone number ("444-4444"). Cellino said that this was the real reason for his actions. "The desire to overthrow him overwhelms me with daily thoughts."

Barnes again rejected his partner's proposals. The men continued like this for months. In a March 2016 email (they now seemed to be doing everything via email because of the yelling), Cellino wrote: "It was you who drove a stake through my soul when you said, 'Ross, why the hell are you here arguing? on nickels and dimes when I gave him literally millions of dollars, I didn't have to take it back."

Barnes responded less than an hour later: "When it comes to this driving a bet on your soul shit, thank your lucky stars and work with me instead of some son of a bitch who might have a different opinion on the other stuff." ". . And there are a lot of motherfuckers out there, Ross. I haven't heard you object to the way I've run the place for the 10+ years that you say you haven't done anything.

Next year,in May 2017, Cellino filed for the dissolution of the company. He announced the decision with an email to employees: "As you may know, my father founded the predecessor to Cellino & Barnes in 1958," he began, before listing each iteration of the company name since then. All but the short-lived Barnes firm started itcello: Cellino & Likoudis; Cellino, Bernstein and Cellino; Cellino, Dwyer, and Barnes. In the end he wondered who would be the next Barnes for his cello. "Cello & ???" His follow-up note to the staff attorneys was even more explicit: "Now please give me a chance to explain what I think our options are going forward: you can join my new law practice, or Steve/Join Daryl." .

Barnes told me that even now he can't believe Cellino would do such a thing. "You look at the money and what lawyers make in this country and you look at two Jamokes from Buffalo who didn't make it to the Ivy League," he says. “And we have put ourselves in a position where we have been making money in a way that the highest paid Skadden Arps affiliates would be extremely jealous. Why would you choose if you intentionally chose to pop that? So the whole decision was a bit unnerving for me.

Barnes made it clear that he would not let the company fail without a fight. But to do that, he would have to challenge his partner in court, claiming that Cellino's claims were pure fiction, and prove that the relations between the two men are somehow compatible.

As the case progressed, the firm's attorneys stepped in and filled out affidavit after affidavit. The papers were very strange. "The stress of the office is palpable," wrote a lawyer, adding that he did not show his testimony to either Cellino or Barnes; He just wanted to tell the court what was going on. "In my opinion, given the promises made by Ross and Steve, the employees aren't worried about their jobs because they were all promised jobs, but the tensions between Ross and Steve spill over to the entire office. The buzz is growing daily: Steve he's bought a new 1-800 number, Ross is shooting new commercials for his company, Steve has rented his own space and has new computer servers, and it goes on and on.

Like some kind of legal Russian doll, the dispute over the company's dissolution spawned at least two other lawsuits. First, Anna Marie Cellino, who was an attorney and natural gas company executive, naturally decided to forge her own path as a personal injury attorney. your partners? Daughters Jeanna and Annamarie. Name? Cellino & Cellino, LLP. A coordinated move to set in motion the split between Cellino and Barnes? Of course not, they insisted; it was just a good time to enter the market. Cellino himself would swear up and down that he had absolutely nothing to do with the new company.

Accordingly, Cellino & Barnes, PC has filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit against Cellino & Cellino, LLP. The Cellino women haven't exactly been subtle about the whole thing, launching a radio ad campaign and putting up at least one billboard. Future plans were even clearer. Where the classic Cellino & Barnes ad featured the two men on opposite sides of the question "Injured?", the proof of a proposed Cellino & Cellino ad used the phrase "car accident?" on an almost identical stage. After Barnes sued her, the Cellinos changed the name of their law firm to the Law Offices of Anna Marie Cellino. After the name change, Barnes lost and did not move on.

Separately, Sturm filed a lawsuit against Ross Cellino, saying he lost his share of settlement fees in a case she and Barnes tried together. The case involved a horrific accident involving a teenager and a fuel used in ceramic cookware called FireGel. When the pot was lit there was an explosion; eight years later, the young man died after great suffering. The lawsuit against Bed Bath & Beyond was eventually settled in what Barnes said was the largest in the company's history. Sturm's lawsuit accused Cellino of withholding compensation from her for it "in an act that can only be an act of petty and vindictive retaliation."

For Barnes, this was a real break in friendship. "I thought I didn't need that," he told me. “And he just did it to – it was the old. How do you hurt the man? Go after his wife. That was too much. That caused some bad blood, I admit.

The case was due to go to court in January, but as is often the case when personal injury lawyers weigh their options in front of a jury, something went right. Barnes told me he wondered, "Are we really going to have a trial?" It did not make sense. He and Cellino agreed to separate the company, including a settlement in the Sturm case. In September the famous advertisements stopped. The jingle stopped. The phone number will be deactivated shortly. The two men agreed not to put each other down (mostly).

Two firms will replace Cellino & Barnes: The Barnes Firm and Cellino Law. The last step before the separation was for Cellino and Barnes to make proposals to the lawyers they wanted to bring with them, and the lawyers chose sides. A little more than half went with Cellino, with most of the upstate lawyers going with him and the New York lawyers with Barnes. Both men see glorious days ahead and wish the other every success.

"I think we have built a good partnership," says Cellino. "We've gotten great results for our clients, but I think we can do bigger things separately." After the grueling court battle, Cellino decided to improve his image by placing billboards and ads of himself alongside furry animals to promote his promotional initiatives. with the local SPCA. He made a transparent promotional video in which he played soccer with his grandchildren (and occasionally wore fancy glasses without lenses). Cellino told me that he is signing a lease to expand into the Bronx. He even made up with Mark Rappold, and the two sometimes have lunch. (David has improved significantly. He can watch TV, argue, and scold his siblings.)

For his part, Barnes is happy with his established coast-to-coast operation and isn't worried about competing with his former partner. "I know Ross is going to spend a lot of money advertising, but we both do it," says Barnes. "At first it's going to be a little ridiculous to see our heads separated on billboards. But that's okay. People will get used to it." Both attorneys have already purchased new 1-800 numbers to put on billboards. And don't worry, there will be new ones too. jingles.

*This article appeared in the September 14, 2020 issue of the magazineNYMagazine.Sign up now!


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(Video) Steve Barnes of Cellino & Barnes and his niece die in Corfu plane crash

In the bitter Cellino & Barnes divorce


Why did Cellino and Barnes split? ›

Gothamist states that Cellino and Barnes fought over "managing the business, employees' compensation, which clients they take on, expansion, how to practice the law, and 'marketing. '" It's unclear why they fought about any of those things, but marketing? Their jingle was ICONIC.

Are Cellino and Barnes still partners? ›

The law firm's principal lawyers, Barnes and his partner Ross Cellino, appeared together in the advertisements, but had a falling out in recent years and battled each other in court. Cellino said that Barnes is survived by his three children, and his longtime partner Ellen Sturm, who is also an attorney at the firm.

How much money did Cellino and Barnes make? ›

Cellino & Barnes peak revenue was $18.7M in 2021.

What happened to Cellino and Barnes plane crash? ›

The crash near Corfu, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of Buffalo, killed Steve Barnes and his niece, Elizabeth Barnes. Stephen Barnes was half of Cellino & Barnes, a firm known for its catchy TV jingle.

Why was Cellino suspended? ›

In 2005, state court officials censured Barnes and suspended his law partner, Ross E. Cellino Jr., for six months after an investigation showed their Cellino & Barnes law firm improperly loaned thousands of dollars to clients in personal injury cases.

Why is the Barnes firm not allowed to practice in California? ›

Cellino & Barnes law firm no longer exists in California after 'numerous business disputes' between the two lawyers. The Cellino & Barnes law firm no longer exists in California. Ross M Cellino Jr filed a lawsuit wanting out of the partnership with Stephen E Barnes four months ago.

Who wrote Cellino and Barnes jingle? ›

The original jingle was written by Buffalo's Ken Kaufman, who has famously written many of the radio advertising jingles Western New Yorkers can't seem to get out of their heads. That original mid-'90s version of the Cellino & Barnes jingle featured the firm's original Buffalo telephone number, 854-2020.

Did Blackburn and Green break up? ›

Blackburn & Green split up because R.T. Green and Tom Blackburn, founding partners of the personal injury law firm called Blackburn & Green, elected to dissolve Blackburn & Green as of December 31, 2021 by agreement.

Where did Ross Cellino grow up? ›

Ross Michael Cellino Sr. was born in his parents' home on a small farm near Dunkirk.

How much did Ross Cellino pay for the Knox Mansion? ›

In 1978, CTG (Computer Task Group) purchased the Knox mansion from the Montefiore Club for $1.3 million to serve as its new corporate headquarters. CTG occupied the building until 2021 when it was announced that Ross Cellino of Cellino Law purchased the building to serve as its new corporate headquarters.

Are Rich and Steve Barnes related? ›

After the unexpected passing of Steve Barnes, his brother and distinguished attorney Rich Barnes was appointed President of The Barnes Firm.

What happened between Alexander and Catalano? ›

"We split, it was amicable," Catalano said. "He likes to run the firm his way and instead of fighting about it, this was the right thing to do," Catalano added. Attorney James Alexander is keeping the "Heavy Hitters" brand and phone number at the firm he and Catalano started in 1995.

What famous lawyer died in a plane crash? ›

Attorney Steve Barnes, who founded the nationally-known Cellino & Barnes personal injury law firm, died in a small plane crash along with his niece, Elizabeth Barnes.

What kind of plane was Barnes flying? ›

Barnes was the pilot of a single-engine Socata TBM-700 that was flying from Manchester, New Hampshire to Buffalo when the plane crashed around 11:45 a.m on October 2, 2020 in Corfu.

What happened to the plane that crashed in the Everglades? ›

In the ValuJet crash, the airline maintenance crew failed to properly store hazardous materials. ValuJet Flight 592 plummeted after an onboard fire, which was ignited because of 144 volatile oxygen-generating canisters. The canisters were packed inside the cargo area of the plane.

What did Ross Cellino do? ›

Cellino and Stephen Barnes founded Cellino & Barnes in 1995 and turned it into one of the best-known personal injury law firms in Western New York. The firm dissolved after a legal dispute that began in 2017, and Barnes died in a plane crash in 2020.

How many kids does Ross Cellino have? ›

As a father of six children and eight grandchildren I understand and appreciate what it means to serve our family and communities. As a trial attorney, I also enjoy the task of righting the wrongs that happen to innocent people.

Can non lawyers Own Law Firms California? ›

Under Attorney Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4, law firms are barred from offering ownership or other investment/revenue-sharing opportunities to non-lawyers.

Can the Barnes firm practice law in California? ›

The Barnes Firm lawyers are licensed to practice in the following: Federal Courts, The United States Supreme Court, and state courts of New York, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

Who owns the Barnes? ›

Two decades later, it became involved in the aerospace industry. As of 1991, the Barnes family owned a third of the company's stock; in that year, William R.
Barnes Group.
Total assetsBarnes Family Assets $200M USD.
Number of employees5000
9 more rows

Who wrote the Oscar Mayer Bologna jingle? ›

That is what I'd truly like to be, 'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener, Everyone would be in love with me. These simple lyrics, scribbled in just one hour by career-jingle writer Richard Trentlage, make up one of the longest running and most popular jingles in American history.

Did Ben Barnes write his own music? ›

All the songs do come from Barnes' own experiences, things he's felt and seen and heard over the years, which he's jotted down in notebooks as half-formed lyrics. But he's aware that with music, there's a certain handing over to be done.

Who wrote Jimmy Barnes songs? ›

Original songs
TitleWritten byOriginal date
TemptationJimmy Barnes1984
Too Much Ain't Enough LoveJimmy Barnes, Jonathan Cain, Neal Schon, Randy Jackson [US1], Tony Brock1987
Waitin' for the HeartacheJimmy Barnes, Desmond Child1987
You Got Nothing I WantJimmy Barnes1982
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Why did Blackburn and Green attorneys change their name? ›

Blackburn and Green changed their name because the partners decided to dissolve the law firm effective 12/31/21.

Why did RT Green leave Blackburn and Green? ›

While the firm did have a strong presence in the state, he and Blackburn became uncomfortable with each other's approach to its future direction and where to put their energy, Green said. By 2021 it became evident the firm needed to be dissolved, he added.

Did Green leave Blackburn and Green? ›

R.T. Green, though, went to Indianapolis to create Team Green with his son, Collin Green. That left a void for Tom Blackburn, the longstanding partner of the firm, to fill. So he tapped Romey, who had been at Blackburn & Green for almost 13 years.

What was the cause of Steve Barnes plane crash? ›

The NTSB lists the official cause of the crash as "the pilot's failure to maintain control of the airplane for undetermined reasons during the descent." BUFFALO, N.Y. — The final report on a plane crash that killed Buffalo attorney Steve Barnes almost two years ago has been released, and there aren't a lot of answers.

Did Cellino & Barnes law firm break up? ›

Ross Cellino, Jr. Upon dissolution of the firm in June 2020, the two attorneys formed separate agencies: Cellino Law and The Barnes Firm. On October 2, 2020, Barnes, along with his niece Elizabeth, were killed in the crash of a TBM 700 single-engine private airplane in Pembroke, Genesee County, New York.

Who wrote the Cellino and Barnes jingle? ›

The original jingle was written by Buffalo's Ken Kaufman, who has famously written many of the radio advertising jingles Western New Yorkers can't seem to get out of their heads. That original mid-'90s version of the Cellino & Barnes jingle featured the firm's original Buffalo telephone number, 854-2020.

Has anyone fell out of a plane and lived? ›

Vesna Vulović (Serbian Cyrillic: Весна Вуловић, pronounced [ʋêsna ʋûːloʋitɕ]; 3 January 1950 – 23 December 2016) was a Serbian flight attendant who holds the Guinness world record for surviving the highest fall without a parachute: 10,160 m (33,330 ft; 6.31 mi).

Which airline has never had a plane crash? ›

Running since 1929, Hawaiian is among the oldest airlines in the world but, remarkably, it has never suffered a single fatal crash or hull loss.

Do plane crashes ever have survivors? ›

Plane crashes do happen. But these tend to be few and far between, and – believe it or not – surviving one is possible. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board found, in their investigation of aircraft mishaps that took place from 1983 to 1999, that the survival rate was an impressive 95%.

Who is Steve Barnes? ›

Steven Barnes is an American television and film actor, television host, television and film producer, radio personality, and digital and social media executive. He is president of Barnes Creative Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, which specializes in digital marketing and social media strategy.

Does Jimmy Barnes write his songs? ›

Rock singer-songwriter. Swan was born in Scotland and moved to Australia at age 4.
Original songs.
TitleGoodbye (Astrid Goodbye)
Written byJimmy Barnes, Don Walker
Originally byCold Chisel
Original date1978
Covered byCovered by Jimmy Barnes
9 more columns

How is Rich Barnes related to Steve Barnes? ›

After the unexpected passing of Steve Barnes, his brother and distinguished attorney Rich Barnes was appointed President of The Barnes Firm.


1. Attorney Ad - SNL
(Saturday Night Live)
2. Cellino & Barnes Commercial History (Old-present)
3. Steve Barnes of law firm Cellino & Barnes, killed in plane crash in New York
(Eyewitness News ABC7NY)
4. Courtroom - SNL
(Saturday Night Live)
(WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY)
6. Tariq Trotter's Irk List: Meteorologists, Cellino & Barnes
(The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon)


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