The law firm of Cellino & Barnes bills itself as the largest personal injury firm in western New York, and the “faces of [name partners Ross M.] Cellino and [Stephen E.] Barnes grace a reported 150 billboards across upstate New York. The attorneys’ names and likenesses frame their phone number and the one-word question ‘Injured?'” However, the firm has now gotten itself into hot water: an appellate panel has suspended Cellino and censured Barnes for, among other infractions, “advancing financial assistance to clients that was unrelated to the expenses of litigation”.
The unanimous five-judge panel found that Cellino and Barnes advanced financial assistance to clients beyond the expenses of litigation and, when they subsequently became aware that such actions violated the disciplinary rules, “arranged for the establishment of, funded and controlled [a] company owned by respondent Cellino’s cousin and that they did so in order to continue loaning money to clients.”
At common law, champerty (supplying clients with money in exchange for a share in the action) and maintenance (supplying them with money in order to keep their lawsuits going) were both offenses, but the prohibitions have tended to fall into disuse or to be repealed outright in recent times. On champerty, see Jun. 19, 2005, Jun. 27, 2004, Oct. 25, 2003, and this excerpt from The Litigation Explosion. (Mark Fass, “Bad Lawyer, No Billboard”, New York Law Journal, Jun. 14; Michael Ziegler, “Cellino & Barnes leaders punished”, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Jun. 11; Rick Pfeiffer, “Lawyers Cellino and Barnes found guilty of violating conduct code”, Tonawanda News, Jun. 11). More on the Barnes law firm: Jan. 31, 2006.