“Ross M. Cellino Jr. and Stephen E. Barnes — known by many in New York and elsewhere simply as Cellino and Barnes, thanks to the infectious jingle that has made the two personal injury lawyers a single, household name — have been in practice together for decades.” Now they appear to be headed to court, but against each other. [Jonah Engel Bromwich, New York Times] Earlier coverage of the Buffalo-based firm, including some ethical scrapes of its principals, here, here, here, here, and generally here.
South Carolina: “Personal injury lawyer and ubiquitous TV pitchman George Sink wants his namesake son to stop using his birth-given moniker to market a fledgling law firm, saying two attorneys with identical names are confusing potential clients.” The request for a temporary injunction against George Sink, Jr. cites the likelihood of confusion with the trademarks of the elder’s firm, for which the son worked until the two parted ways in February. [David Wren, Charleston Post and Courier]
An agreement between the father and son calls for any business dispute to be settled in arbitration, which is tentatively scheduled for December, and limits damages to $500 — an amount Sink Jr. already has paid to his father.
Sink Sr. said in court documents the agreement should be set aside because he signed it without reading it. …The temporary injunction, if granted, would last until an arbitrator decides the case.
P.S. Meanwhile in NYC: “The messy professional break-up between hot-shot personal-injury lawyers Ross Cellino and Steve Barnes is moving from the courthouse to the playhouse, dramatized in a stage show playing next month in Brooklyn.” [Aaron Feis and Julia Marsh, New York Post, earlier]
“What’s next? A dog food commercial?” fumed Council President David A. Franczyk, who says, as do colleagues, that they were never informed that a prominent local injury-law practice was filming a TV ad in its historic chambers [Buffalo News via WSJ]. The firm of Cellino & Barnes, which we’ve met previously on this site, says it has no plans to discontinue showing the ad despite the lawmakers’ displeasure.
William K. Mattar, 43, of Buffalo “has built a substantial auto-injury practice through the estimated $2 million he spends each year on ads produced by CJ Advertising in Nashville, Tenn.” Now three lawyers who worked for Mattar have quit in acrimonious circumstances, providing a look inside the firm’s workings. Joseph Bergen said Mattar had admitted never having tried a case and had never taken a client deposition in the nine years Bergen had worked with the firm. As business poured in from TV viewers, the lawyers say, Mattar stopped using his staff lawyers to screen the cases for likely merit, instead devolving that task on a call center in Tennessee. Meanwhile, the staff lawyers’ caseloads swelled to more than 200 cases apiece, along with which came “increased pressure from Mattar to settle a minimum of two to three cases a week each,” whether or not the lawyers felt the cases were in an appropriate posture to settle. The three are setting up their own personal-injury firm, and Mattar depicts them as disgruntled employees who are misleading clients in hopes of taking away business from him. (Michael Beebe, “Mattar’s 3 trial lawyers quit”, Buffalo News, Oct. 25; “Mattar says lawyers conspired to steal clients”, Nov. 1; Martha Neil, “Former PI Colleagues Now Battling in Buffalo”, ABA Journal, Nov. 1). For some reason the Buffalo-Rochester area has generated a steady stream of colorful stories about law firms with saturation TV-ad budgets, sometimes coupled with factory-line methods; see our earlier coverage of Cellino & Barnes/The Barnes Firm and the now-retired Jim (“The Hammer”) Shapiro, of “hand you their severed heads” fame, who conceded in a deposition that he had never tried a case.
- Represented by repeat Overlawyered mentionees Cellino & Barnes/The Barnes Firm, this injured upstate New Yorker got a settlement of $35,000 which worked out after expenses to — are you ready? — $6.60 [Buffalo News]
- Not yet a laughingstock: AMA backs off idea of labeling video-game addiction [Wired News, L.A.Times/CinciPost, HealthDay/WilmNJ]
- Restaurant critics fear losing their physical anonymity, which means a Bala Cynwyd eatery has a sword to hold over the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer it’s suing [PhilaWeekly] (More: AP/CNN)
- Dad of the year? Father who didn’t have much contact with 30-year-old son during his life shows up to claim half his $2.9 million 9/11 compensation award [NYDN, NYLJ, PDF brief courtesy Taranto/WSJ]
- Fie on goodness: Geoffrey Fieger engages Harvard’s Dershowitz to try to quash federal grand jury probe, and he’s still battling Michigan judges too [DetNews]
- In suburban D.C. middle school, high-fiving could mean detention under no-touching rule [Washington Post, AP/CNN]
- Law firm whistleblowers? Ex-employees allege billing fraud in tobacco suit by high-flying Kansas City, Mo. trial lawyer [Legal NewsLine]
- U.K. government panel bans egg ad as not encouraging healthy eating [Times Online, Guardian, Telegraph]
- Lawprof is keen on expanding tort law to open door for more suits against schools over kids’ bullying [Childs]
- 1,001 ways to self-publicize: one is to become a “trial groupie” [Elefant]
- Guess what? This site just turned eight years old [isn’t it cool]
The Barnes Firm, formerly Cellino & Barnes, is a powerhouse in the personal-injury business in upstate New York, where it is a ubiquitous advertiser. According to the Buffalo News, it’s built one of the largest caseloads of Vioxx lawsuits in the nation by hawking its star attorney, Brian A. Goldstein, who in television ads
described how he was uniquely qualified to represent Vioxx users. Not only was he a personal injury lawyer, he told viewers, he was a former physician and board-certified surgeon….
The lawsuits accuse the drug’s maker, Merck & Co., with failing to tell patients the whole truth about Vioxx.
Goldstein, though, appears guilty of the same charge about his medical background. Georgia’s Composite State Board of Medical Examiners revoked Goldstein’s license to practice medicine on Jan. 10, 1991.
Goldstein was found guilty of providing Georgia licensing authorities with misleading and incomplete information about his education, according to records obtained by The Buffalo News. The licensing board found that Goldstein:
• Attended college and medical school at the same time in the Dominican Republic.
• Graduated from medical school less than three years after he graduated from high school.
• Received credit for courses he had not taken, had not completed or failed.
• Said he attended Tulane University when he had not, falsified his earlier training and submitted a false letter of recommendation for a residency at the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.
The hearing officer in Georgia not only recommended revocation but also said the decision should be published “as a public reprimand for [Goldstein] for his conduct.”
But none of that information was mentioned in the Vioxx ads, or in Goldstein’s biography on The Barnes Firm Web site.
The Buffalo News investigation includes various defenses of his conduct offered by Goldstein, including the following:
He also said Georgia authorities failed to consider the fact he had received an undergraduate degree from Empire State College.
The News confirmed that degree from the college, which grants degrees based on life experience as well as academic studies. But the degree was granted in 1988, three years after Georgia filed charges against him.
The newspaper asks medical ethicist Arthur Caplan about Goldstein’s “selective use of parts of his medical background to recruit legal clients”. Caplan’s response: “I think it’s sleazy”. (Michael Beebe, “Did Barnes Firm lawyer tell the whole truth?”, Buffalo News, Jan. 22). Carolyn Elefant comments at My Shingle (Jan. 22), and the incident also stirs memories for blogger Gina at Together Again (Jan. 23). The law firm of Cellino & Barnes has figured in these pages before: see Jul. 15, 2005.
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.