• Civil Law Blog

    Personal Injury Lawyer Steve Barnes Dead | But What About Cellino & Barnes?

  • wp-content/uploads/2022/11/civil-law-blog.jpg

    Personal Injury Lawyer Steve Barnes Dead | But What About Cellino & Barnes?

Personal Injury Lawyer Steve Barnes Dead | But What About Cellino & Barnes?

Injury Law Icon Stephen Barnes Dead In Airplane Crash – The Storied and Sordid History

King Barnes Is Dead; Long Live the King!

New York lawyer Stephen Barnes, a giant of a personality and achievement, passed away yesterday in an airplane crash with his 32-year-old niece, Elizabeth. News reports aver they were on a private aircraft, flying to a birthday party in Buffalo, NY, on behalf of Barnes’ mother. Barnes is a registered pilot. It appears Barnes was the control of his single-engine Socata TBM 700. Most of us in the PI profession recognize the name “Cellino & Barnes Injury Attorneys.” And some of us are familiar with the volatile relationship between the corporation’s partners, Ross Cellino and decedent Barnes.

The authorities have alleged no foul play, and it looks like a pilot or mechanical error as the probable cause of the airplane crash, losing all hands aboard. Barne’s flight path was Manchester to New Hampshire, to Buffalo when the bird fell from the sky and crashed in the woods in Corfu, close to Pembroke, N.Y., at about 11:45 a.m., yesterday, Friday.

I have a natural affection for Stephen Barnes, the man. Having just lost my father, I wanted to praise this man critically, which is not disrespectful, but keeping with the facts, and wherever they may lead. Knowing he was a Marine helps me understand his philosophy because it is mine. Said philosophy is simple, lead, follow, or get out of the way, just like my U.S. Marine father before me.

This man was a real Clint Eastwood, but also an officer and a gentleman.

Clint Eastwood Meme. Personal Injury Lawyer Steve Barnes Dead | But What About Cellino & Barnes?

His leadership style was likely no-nonsense. Sadly, in the age of soy drinking, beta males, USMC leadership skills such as his are rarely seen as positive qualities. Instead, the result with non-Marine associates and outside acquaintances often becomes passive-aggressive, and the relationship ends or becomes caustic. But I can quickly see how an insurance adjuster or other scared corporate clock puncher would pay top dollar to settle a case with a lawyer having the Barne’s Marine Corps ethos. And with the Marine Corps. Birthday upon us, all I can say is Semper Fidelis.

Even though Barnes was a Marine reservist when he retired, he did see active duty and combat. And he reached the rank of [reserve?] major. Impressive! Ooohrah! Not only was he a prominent lawyer, but he was also a U.S. Marine like me. Barnes had a unique background that most Marines would kill over for bragging rights. In addition to the Basic School, Barnes attended the Naval Justice School located in Newport, Rhode Island.

Of course, he was the honor graduate. He did serve as an active duty USMC officer in Okinawa and at Camp Pendleton as a JAG officer. But after he left active duty, he found courage as a Rifle Platoon Commander attached to India Company, 3d Btn, 25th MarDiv.

After deployment to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he went on to see combat-leading elements of the 8th Tank Btn. And on February 1991, Barnes led the 8th tankers for the main tank battle against the Iraqi Republican Guard. Barnes made USMC Major on April 1st of, 1991. (Source). This was a man of action, having climbed almost the entire Himalayas except for K2. Wow!

After that time in service, Barnes became a prominent New York Lawyer. Besides this, his apparent former law firm, Cellino & Barnes of New York, won more than $2 billion for personally injured clients in California and New York.

“The firm eventually went on to open offices in Los Angeles and had more than 250 employees before its dissolution.” (Source).* *[There is no online record of Cellino & Barnes Injury Attorneys” having been registered with the California State Bar or Secretary of State of California]. (Any details on this would be appreciated).

Moving along, in a public statement this morning, Cellino stated:

“Steve and I worked together for many years at our firm. He was always a fearless advocate for his clients. His passing is a significant loss for the legal community.”

Noteworthy here is that the aircraft is registered with the FAA at the Cellino and Barnes’ Western New York offices address. The facts relate that Barnes and Ross Cellino Jr. ran the New York-based Cellino & Barnes law firm for almost 30 years.

Later, this New York firm began taking California cases. Most Californians’ remember their musical radio jingle and catchy toll-free phone number, “800-888-8888.” They spent hundreds of millions on advertising, had trouble with the State Bar, and even had “Saturday Night Live” skits based upon them. To this day, social media giants like Law Bull Dog make fun of them and joke about these two characters, Cellino and Barnes.

As discussed below, after a bitter feud, apparently, in part over Barnes’ use of the Cellino name in California, they had fought in court over all types of issues, some of which we discuss below. Steve Barnes left behind his loving companion, fellow jurist Ellen Sturm who is still listed online as an employee of Cellino & Barnes, a New York Corporation. He also leaves behind his three loving children, Josiah, Rachel, and Julia.

The National Transportation Safety Board is already investigating the cause of the crash. And AP said that the NTSB would likely release its initial report in around 7 to 10 days. (Source). The sad death was confirmed by his former New York law partner, Ross Cellino, of New York’s Cellino & Barnes. Most Californians know who the Barne’s Firm is. For those who don’t, these two lawyer partners started Barne’s Firm as Cellino & Barnes in New York and then later as a California Corporation. So it appears the partners decided to start advertising in California, leveraging the New York website and marketing properties of the New York law firm.

The law firm’s advertising is ubiquitous in Western New York. The firm spent an estimated $3.4 million on television and billboards alone in 2004, according to media tracking sources. (Source).

The Two Men And Their Bitter Divorce:

“The protracted split, which should wrap up in the coming months, began in 2017 when Cellino accused his law partner of poaching his clients.” (Source).

Cellino also accused his estranged law partner of improperly funneling $1.3 million in law firm funds to a California operation that financially benefits only Barnes. (Source). There was also an allegation that a former employee unfairly stole proprietary information to help one of the partners.

All we could extrapolate from everything is that Barnes tried to run a separate California law corporation, Cellino & Barnes, LC, as his business operation, which only benefitted Barnes. If you have something to add to this, put that in the comments. It’s a bit confusing. On or about January 2019, Ross Cellino and Stephen Barnes were in the news about the falling out over the California marketing project DBA Cellino & Barnes Injury Attorneys.” (Source).

Ultimately, after a bitter battle between the two partners, this legal entity changed its marketing materials in California to “The Barnes Firm Injury Attorneys.” After each city it markets in, it uses a different entity name or variation of its other words, but with the Cellino name removed.

The Clouded History – Who Or What Is The Barnes Firm?

The records are unclear what the actual business name Cellino & Barnes was marketing and handling California cases under. There is no record of any California law corporation named Cellino & Barnes Injury Attorneys. California does not allow Multi-Jurisdictional practices, California lawyers, or California law corporations to operate as several DBAs. And we could not find any corporate abbreviations used in their many business names on advertisements in California.

“The name of your law corporation in State Bar records (and on file with the Secretary of State) is the only name under which it may practice law. Rule 3.152-B of the Law Corporation Rules requires that the name “complies with the California Rules of Professional Conduct and that the name includes wording or abbreviations denoting corporate existence…”

“Please refer to the excerpt from California Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 7.1-7.5. If you are not sure the name of your law corporation complies with Rules 7.1-7.5, contact the State Bar of California at 1-888-800-3400 or review Law Corporation Name Definitions & Abbreviations for frequent name issues.” (Source).

Noteworthy here is that there is no record of either Barnes or Cellino ever being licensed to practice law in California. So here, we must assume they formed a law partnership with a lawyer in California, or they would not have been able to make money from California residents. However, there is no disclosure we could find that declares such a relationship thus far. All we could find is that one lawyer is responsible for the accuracy of their California attorney advertising website. As recently as 2016, the partners used the same website for their New York and California partnership operations. (See below Wayback machine image).

Screenshot showing one website for both states

Their California and New York firm does not list any partners in California we could find. Maybe a California licensed partner joined their New York firm and then became a registered California multi-jurisdictional practice (“MJP”) since the website appears to aver that either Cellino or Barnes would be handling their case. Unfortunately, we were unable to find any publicly available information. It is all very confusing whether or not this is even a multi-jurisdictional practice or if the partners, as advertised, worked in California.

One thing is sure, creating a California corporation and having a New York firm with the same corporate name would confuse a potential client and the California State Bar. So using the same business name, Cellino & Barnes creates a reasonable inference that the partnership intended the public to believe this is a multi-jurisdictional law practice in New York and NOT a separate law corporation established under the laws of the State of California.

But it’s all very confusing and convoluted. Also, an out-of-state law firm can’t use that same trade name in New York, the bar says. (Source). We are just trying to get at some of the reasons why the partners decided to wrap up their partnership besides what was all over the news. We know the firm operates in California as Los Angeles, personal injury attorneys under several aliases that are not registered corporations in any state.

Here is what we do know:

The reason why [law firm] can’t have a DBA while maintaining a law firm name is that the State Bar doesn’t allow (sic.) to do so. The State Bar expects the [law firm] to do business solely under the name of his corporation, according to the California law firm name rules. Furthermore, it doesn’t have a process for applying for trade names or fictitious business names. In other words, the client can’t operate a law corporation under two distinctly different business names. (Source).

Barnes set up a mirror corporation in California called Cellino and Barnes. But then, in advertising, this firm used a fictitious business name. Also, we could find no provision for a New York Law Corporation setting up a new corporation with the same name in California or even a disclosure in any marketing materials indicating whether or not that was the case here. (Source). Since the New York website listed Los Angeles as one of its locations, and there is no information saying otherwise, it remains unclear what the company’s status was.

Presently, as of September 4, 2020, Attorney Barne’s significant other, Ellen B. Sturm, is listed as an attorney working for Cellino & Barnes, LP, located at 350 Main Street, #2500, Buffalo, New York 14202.

Cellino and Barnes, Ellen Sturm

As of September 4, 2020, Ross Cellino is also listed as an attorney working for the same law firm, but at the 2500 Main Place Tower address in Buffalo, NY.

Ross Cellino of the still functioning Cellino and Barnes.

Noteworthy, Cellino still uses the 888-8888 number used by the Barnes and Cellino corporation. Whether or not news stories of the partnership’s dissolution are true is called into question. But what is true is that somehow, Mr. Barnes’s life partner and Mr. Cellino are still using the allegedly defunct partnership name on their official state bar attorney search listings.

We are still trying to understand the nature of the California operations and what name these lawyers operated under in California. Perhaps a former lawyer employee can reach out and let us know? Let’s be fair and get it right! It’s all confusing since the marketing materials showed the firm calling itself “Cellino & Barnes Injury Attorneys,” which is not the firm’s name.

Every lawyer who markets in other states would love to copy their business model to grab some California cases. In any event, the two partners decided to stop using the Cellino name alongside the Barnes name in California adverts around 2019, as noted above.

What Facts Do Exist Regarding California and New York Corporate Status?

  • On or about December 12, 2013, New York Attorney Stephen A. Barnes started the California Corporation, “Cellino & Barnes, LC,” C3617803.
  • On or about October 26, 2015, New York attorney Ross Cellino was added to Cellino & Barnes, LC as a “managing director.” (See attached PDF C3617803).
  • On July 14, 2017, the California Corporation Cellino & Barnes, LC amended the Articles of Incorporation to rename Barnes Firm, LC. (No amendments to remove Cellino are online)
  • And as of August 2019, no changes have been made to the entity. The official business address is “Barnes Firm, LC 633 West 5th Street, #1180.”

The California State Bar website also lists its registered agent, Mr. Sheehan, as occupying a law corporation suite called:

The Barnes Firm, L.C., 633 W 5th St Ste 1750, Los Angeles, CA 90071-3547. (Source).

We are uncertain whether these are the same firm, but another law firm called Barnes Firm Injury Attorneys (does not say if it is a corporation or not) has a Google My Business listing at that building. But that DBA is located in suite number 1750. California law does not allow a law corporation to operate as a DBA, as noted above, and since these are in different suites, it could just be a fluke. Also, there is no explanation for why two separate corporations would be needed. After all, Los Angeles and New York are listed under substantially similar firm names on the New York website.

What we do know is that Stephen Barnes operated and marketed both the NY Corporation Cellino & Barnes, P.C. under the DBA: “Cellino & Barnes Injury Attorneys,” in both print, online, radio, and other forms of media.

Presently, decedent Barnes had also been operating in California under the DBA: “The Barnes Firm Injury Attorneys.” There is no record of an amendment to the articles of incorporation changing the California corporation Barnes Firm LC to operate under the trade DBA “The Barnes Firm Injury Attorneys.”

So there could be an MJP in New York, where he was also licensed to practice law that we are unaware of. Either way, according to the news, the partners broke up. But based on what we are seeing, there is likely to be more fallout. I would not be shocked if Cellino sued Barnes in California, using the same arguments that Barnes used against Cellino in NY, as will be discussed more below.

  • What Do The News Reports Say About It?

We know that news reports say Cellino & Barnes is over. But which one is over? They have two almost identically named corporations, and both are still active. Although Barnes amended the original California Articles, all liabilities and past names flow from the old name to the new one. In other words, there are two corporations that both operate as Cellino and Barnes. However, Ann Marie Cellino started a new firm with her relative, Ross Cellino, called Cellino & Cellino, LLP.

“Ross Cellino will now be top dog at Cellino Law, and soon-to-be-ex-partner Steve Barnes is going with The Barnes Firm, according to WIVB-News in Buffalo.” (Source).

But it appears that Barnes was unhappy that Cellino used his last name in Cellino’s new law firm’s title, and Barnes sued. In response, Ann Marie Cellino asserted that Barnes is a “bully.”  She claimed his lawsuit against her represented a “desperate attempt” to interfere with the Cellino women’s right to practice law.”

So it appears after the breakup, Barnes sued her when she formed Cellino & Cellino LLP. A court granted an injunction forcing the Cellinos’ from using their own family last name in connection with Cellino & Cellino, as it is “confusingly similar” to Cellino & Barnes, LC after all these years of marketing the locale and nationwide. Barnes also argued that the same phone numbers used by Cellino were an amalgamation of similar numbers the partnership had used. (Source).

Ultimately, the “Law Offices of Anna Marie Cellino LLP” was formed by Cellino & Cellino. Ann Marie now says she has no interest in litigation over Barnes’ “petty squabbles.” She did argue that the former name had “no likelihood of confusion.” Also, she claimed, there was “certainly no intent to confuse.” (Source, supra Bizjournals story)

What Is The Legal Name of New York Barne’s Firm?

This squabble above between the two law partners got us thinking about things. So we searched the available New York corporate records online and could not find any business entity named “The Barnes Firm Injury Attorneys.”

Here is what we did find:

  • On or about May 6, 1998, CELLINO & BARNES, P.C., was incorporated in New York.
  • On or about June 14, 2005, the entity name was amended to BARNES FIRM P.C.
  • On or about June 28, 2007, the “Actual” name was changed to CELLINO & BARNES, P.C. (Source).
  • On or about January 2, 2020, CELLINO LAW, LLP, DOS ID #5680608, was set up in New York. (Source).
  • On or about April 24, 2019, CELLINO & CELLINO was incorporated in the State of New York as an LLP, DOS ID #5539924.
  • Although news reports assert that CELLINO & BARNES was ruled to be shut down, it became an active New York corporation on October 2, 2020. (Source).
  • Ross Cellino is now apparently operating as THE LAW OFFICES OF ANNA MARIE CELLINO LLP, DOS ID #5575348, Initial DOS Filing Date: June 21, 2019, in New York State. (Source).

We are uncertain if these entities were/are the same entities operating in California under the above marketing names. None of the California names match the official business names registered with the prospective state bars or secretaries of state records that we could we find. In fact, we are unsure if these are connected to any of the players in California. It isn’t apparent. All we have to go on is that marketing materials clarified that California and New York were operating as the same law firm.

We have heard complaints from others that this is a huge lead generation network and that neither Cellino nor Barnes worked on any of the cases in California. However, it isn’t apparent since their website and marketing materials appeared to indicate otherwise. The firm used many variations of its legal name, all ringing to the same toll-free phone number to a phone center, possibly in New York, using innovative billboards costing hundreds of millions of dollars. They also invested heavily in online marketing and hired many new lawyers. At least one report indicates some lawyers handled cases on an up system, similar to a car dealership. At least one former New York lawyer claimed he was forced to sign an unfair, unethical employment agreement. Based on our research, this same employment agreement would also go against California law as an unfair contract of adhesion.

A New York State Supreme Court Justice, John A. Michalek, ruled that parts of a Cellino & Barnes employment contract were unfair because:

  • The contract prohibited a departing lawyer from telling his clients he was leaving the law firm.
  • The court curtailed the law firm’s ability to collect as much as 89% of the legal fees from clients the lawyer took with him.
  • But the firm said it was entitled to at least 44% of the legal fees just for its marketing and advertising expenses.
  • The court countered that parts of the agreement that lawyer Paul B. Becker signed in 2005 violate the legal profession’s rules of professional conduct. “To the extent that the agreement bars Becker from communicating with the clients he represented while employed by the firm, it is unenforceable as an illegal non-competition agreement between lawyers,” Michalek said.
  • Under the agreement, only the law firm could notify his clients that he left the firm, which it did 24 days after giving his 15-day notice.

“These provisions are designed for one purpose only, which is to keep the client from making a timely and informed choice of counsel,” Becker said in the lawsuit. “Cellino & Barnes is hiding from the client the fact that the attorney is leaving until the attorney has left.” “The provisions are designed to keep the client from making an informed decision by making it appear as if the departing attorney abandoned his clients,” according to Becker’s suit.

“The clients are not informed that the attorney is not allowed to contact them,” he added. “The provisions are designed to imply that the attorney has no interest in representing the clients or to place the departing attorney in a bad light.” Cellino & Barnes sought legal fees from the disgraced employee to shift the blame to attorney Becker, claiming he violated the employment contract.

Barnes and company tried to pass on “case acquisition costs” to the departing lawyer. One clause in the contract reads:

“But for employer’s expending substantial monies on case acquisition costs, neither the employer nor the employee would have been introduced to the clients, and that there would be no cases available for the employer to assign to the employee to work on and earn the wages and compensation.”

The court also found that “..the imposition of the 43.56% lien is more appropriately deemed a penalty, because there is no proof it bears any relationship to actual damages or expenses,” and “Further, the agreement specifically defines case acquisition costs as not including any legal work performed on the client matter.

“To the extent that a departing lawyer such as Becker must continue to pay the firm’s overhead in the amount of 43.56% of the fees that he earns if he represents a former firm client, that penalty serves as a strong disincentive for him to represent any client who wishes to follow him,” said the judge. (Source).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Barne’s California operation’s lawyers worked more like independent contractors, settling cases and getting more what resembles a sales commission. There was nothing we could find as to whether or not the same confiscatory employment contract is used in its California operations. To many, it appeared that Radio stations, billboards, web ads, and virtual offices started popping up everywhere in the Golden State.

There was a new kid in town from out of town, and it appeared they were here to stay, knocking longtime local lawyers out of the Yahoo, Yelp!, Bing, and Google Maps ad space. Eventually, the two New York lawyers had a falling out that started who knows when. But after months of legal wrangling, Cellino was shut out of the California revenue flow. This California lead generation project was renamed the Barne’s Firm, L.P., as its California legal name for marketing purposes.

For A Quick History, we found this article by columnist Louise Boyle:

EXCLUSIVE: Shouting matches, office hook-ups, nepotism, and bad karma: Why America’s top injury attorneys Cellino & Barnes – known for their iconic jingle – are in the throes of a messy split. Ross Cellino Jr filed a lawsuit against the partner, Stephen Barnes, and their law firm last Wednesday, with hopes of dissolving the popular partnership. Sources told Dailymail.com that the rift stems from the duo’s conflicting personalities and has been festering for some time One source 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. Yet Barnes’s girlfriend Ellen Sturm and his brother, Richard Barnes, have worked at the firm for several years.

What Are Some Other Noteworthy Facts About Cellino And Barnes the Attorneys?

Barnes was known as the brains and the marketing expert. Insiders say he was driven, whereas Cellino was more laid back and went with the flow. Cellino asserted that Barnes was a control freak. According to papers filed with the court, Cellino maintains that in one of the many shouting matches between the two, Barnes screamed at him,

“Why the fuck would you want to fuck this up when you are making $10 million a year?!” (Source).

Researching more deeply into the partnership and the players, a rift may have developed after Cellino was forced to fall on the sword over State Bar ethics violations entered against the couple around circa 2005. Only Cellino was suspended from the New York Bar and publicly admonished by the New York State Bar’s Grievance Committee. Although Barnes had previously been issued a letter of caution (we could not find this disciplinary record online), he did not receive public censure.

Cellino got nailed with the State Bar Ethics Charge and even a suspension from the practice of law on his official State Bar Public Record. (See Matter of Cellino 2005 NY Slip Op 04943 [21 AD3d 229] June 10, 2005, Per Curiam, J. Appellate Division, Fourth Department – Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau under Judiciary Law § 431. As corrected through Wednesday, November 16, 2005.) Although Barnes contacted hospitalized accident victims and loaned non-case expense-related money to clients, Barnes escaped discipline.

We agree with the Referee that in three instances the conduct of respondents [Stehpen Barnes and Ross Cellino violated: 1. Code of Professional Responsibility DR 5-103 (b) (22 NYCRR 1200.22 [b]). Pursuant to that rule, while representing a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation, a lawyer is prohibited from advancing or guaranteeing financial assistance to the client beyond the expenses of litigation. The Referee found that in 1997 respondents agreed to pay the expenses of litigation on behalf of a client in order to induce the client to retain them and evidenced that agreement by crossing out preprinted language on a standard retainer agreement that recited the client’s obligation to pay costs and disbursements. The Referee rejected the testimony of respondents that they had merely agreed to reduce their standard fee by the amount of expenses and that they did not agree to absolve the client of the ultimate responsibility to pay expenses in the event that no recovery was obtained in the personal injury lawsuit and he concluded that their conduct violated the above rule. 2.

The Referee further found that, pursuant to a Court rule that has since been repealed (22 NYCRR 1022.2 [b]), respondent Cellino filed a retainer statement with the Office of Court Administration that did not accurately reflect the parties’ agreement regarding compensation. The Referee, in making{**21 AD3d at 231} that finding, did not credit the testimony of respondent Cellino that he had inadvertently signed a preprinted retainer statement. As this Court has previously noted, when the resolution of issues in a disciplinary proceeding depends upon the credibility of witnesses, a referee’s findings are entitled to great weight (see Matter of Dwyer, 285 AD2d 133, 134 [2001]; see also Matter of Cohn, 194 AD2d 987, 990 [1993]; Matter of Somers, 50 AD2d 396 [1976]; Matter of Michaelson, 283 App Div 281, 282 [1954]). The findings of the Referee are supported by the record, and we therefore decline to disturb them. 3. The Referee also found that, during a five-month period in 1994, respondents extended loans in amounts between $500 and $4,000 to eight clients through a company that they owned, and he concluded that they thereby violated DR 5-103 (b).

The Referee further found that, between the years 1994 and 1999, respondents circumvented that rule by arranging for the establishment and funding of a company owned by respondent Cellino’s cousin in order to continue their practice of extending loans to clients, thereby violating Code of Professional Responsibility DR 1-102 (a) (2) (22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [2]). Additionally, the Referee found [*2]that respondents failed to disclose to borrowers that they owned one of the companies extending the loans and had a financial interest in the other, thereby violating the Code of Professional Responsibility DR 5-101 (a) (22 NYCRR 1200.20 [a]). Respondents admit that they extended loans to existing clients through their company and submit that they did so as a service to their clients to enable the clients to satisfy their financial obligations pending resolution of their personal injury lawsuits. They submit that, when they became aware that their conduct violated the disciplinary rules, they ceased their practice of loaning money to clients and referred clients to companies that were in the business of extending loans to plaintiffs in personal injury matters, including the company owned by respondent Cellino’s cousin.

We confirm the Referee’s findings that respondents arranged for the establishment of, funded and controlled the company owned by respondent Cellino’s cousin and that they did so in order to continue loaning money to clients. By doing so, they circumvented DR 5-103 (b) and, consequently, violated DR 1-102 (a) (2). Additionally, by failing to make the required disclosures to clients regarding their involvement in the two companies and{**21 AD3d at 232} by failing to obtain the consent of the clients, respondents violated DR 5-101 (a). … “

“…We conclude that respondents have violated the following Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility:{**21 AD3d at 234} DR 1-102 (a) (2) (22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [2])—circumventing a disciplinary rule through actions of another; DR 1-102 (a) (5) (22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [5])—engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice; DR 1-102 (a) (7) (former [8]) (22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [7])—engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on their fitness as lawyers; DR 5-101 (a) (22 NYCRR 1200.20 [a])—accepting or continuing employment if the exercise of professional judgment on behalf of the client will be or reasonably may be affected by their own financial interests; DR 5-103 (b) (22 NYCRR 1200.22 [b])advancing or guaranteeing financial assistance to a client while representing the client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation when the client is not indigent and the financial assistance does not constitute the expenses of litigation for which the client remains ultimately liable; and DR 5-104 (a) (22 NYCRR 1200.23 [a])—entering into a business transaction with a client if they have differing interests therein and if the client expects them to exercise professional judgment therein for the protection of the client without disclosing the terms of the transaction to the client in writing and obtaining the consent of the client to those terms and to their inherent conflict of interest in the transaction. ..”

“We conclude that, by filing the false retainer statement, respondent Cellino has committed the following additional violations of the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility: DR 1-102 (a) (3) (22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [3])—engaging in illegal conduct that adversely reflects on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer; and DR 1-102 (a) (4) (22 NYCRR 1200.3 [a] [4])—engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. “The record before this Court reveals that after more than 20 years in the practice of law, respondent Cellino has an unblemished record and respondent Barnes has received one letter of caution. … Order of suspension entered. (For the entire body of the Grievance Committee Finding, go here).

The Bitter Break Up:

As with most breakups, they can be bitter. But before the split, we saw employment claims against the two partners by at least one former lawyer not being paid, state bar ethics charges, and significant battles over the firm refusing to pay their lawyer fairly, as well as unfair business practices disallowing clients to make an informed decision whether to go with their current lawyer or a new lawyer provided by the partners.

The allegations seem to aver that Barnes ran the show, and the Cellino was making a good chunk of change. More and more, it looks like it was a massive marketing operation using almost any means necessary to get cases, yet it was Cellino who ended up getting suspended from the New York State Bar. The nepotism allegations and other pretexts seem to be the straw that broke that partnership camel’s back.

For example:

In another complication in the bitter breakup of Cellino & Barnes, an attorney at the firm who is dating partner Stephen Barnes sued his longtime partner Ross Cellino on Tuesday for allegedly failing to pay her $936,000 she was owed for her work on a major case. (Source).

Still, many questions remain unresolved about how or why Barne’s Firm operates under so many DBAs in its marketing, which is confusing. Or were Cellino and Barnes even dissolved? Or did Barnes change the name of its substantially similarly named California entity? Although we mourn the loss of Stephen Barnes, we also empathize with Ross Cellino and his family. Whether or not Cellino was a fall guy in this operation remains unclear.

But what does remain clear is that without the personality and marketing genius of Stephen Barnes, the profitability of the California money-making venture will likely be a mere shell of what it once was. Most of all, like Kobe Bryant, another icon has passed away in an aviation crash. Rest in Peace, Mr. Barnes. God bless you and your survivors. If you have any information or would like to improve this article, please contact our local offices using our online contact form.


Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.

Go here for More Verdicts and Settlements.

Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC