Breakup of N.Y. Personal Injury Firm Inspires Off-Broadway Play

By Andrew Leonatti on August 01, 2019

Perry Mason, Patty Hewes, Ally McBeal, Jack McCoy, Lt. Daniel Kafee, and, of course, Atticus Finch are just a few of fiction’s most famous attorneys. But Cellino and Barnes?

Yes, two of New York’s most famous personal injury attorneys (for you New Yorkers, that jingle) could be headed toward theatrical immortality – or infamy – because of their acrimonious business divorce. The play Cellino v. Barnes premiers this Saturday in Brooklyn.    

Ripped From the Headlines

It all started in May 2017, when Ross Cellino Jr. sued partner Stephen Barnes, seeking a dissolution of their firm. In a petition, Cellino’s lawyers alleged that the firm was suffering from irreconcilable differences due to constant arguments between the two over topics like compensation, which cases to take, and marketing (obviously their marketing is perfect). Barnes also allegedly refused to let Cellino hire his daughter as an employee. 

After that, the two traded salacious accusations of Cellino attempting to poach attorneys and Barnes making employees swear their loyalty to the firm. There was even a call to police over the delivery of a package containing a powdery white substance, which ultimately proved to be a false alarm. But no arrests were made.

At one point, Cellino allegedly said to Barnes: “I don’t give a f—k, I will burn the place to the ground and start over with one lawyer.”

Their California locations officially dissolved later in 2017, and are now just The Barnes Firm. Californians, however, are deprived of hearing the famous jingle, which apparently – sigh – has inspired tribute remixes.

The Drama Continues

Like a jilted spouse blindsided by a divorce request, Barnes has opposed the dissolution this entire time. In fact, the firm pulled in “record” profits in 2018, all while the breakup hung over their heads. The firm boasts on its website that it has recovered more than $2 billion in settlements and verdicts over the years.

But while Barnes wants to continue the partnership, he has also now sued the Cellino family for founding another law firm, Cellino and Cellino, which was created by Ross’s wife and children.

While the premier of Cellino v. Barnes is sold out, the nonfictional trial to dissolve Cellino & Barnes is set to start next week. So anxious New Yorkers worried about losing one of their favorite earworms who missed out on tickets can still get their fill of drama.

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