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Appellate court grants Cellino reinstatement as lawyer Former partner in prominent firm described as 'ecstatic' but remains mum on career plans

Ross M. Cellino Jr., who was part of Buffalo's best-known legal team until his suspension on ethics charges, was reinstated Thursday by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.

In a brief order, the justices said they had weighed arguments for and against reinstatement by the Attorney Grievance Committee and Terrance M. Connors, Cellino's attorney, and lifted the ban.

"He was ecstatic," Connors said of Cellino's reaction. "I know how happy he is, both for himself and for his family." Connors said his client had decided against making any statement at this time.

With his partner, Stephen E. Barnes, Cellino, 49, had developed Cellino & Barnes into the area's largest personal injury firm.

But June 10, 2005, the appellate court suspended him for at least six months after finding that the firm had improperly advanced money to clients, first through a company owned by Cellino and Barnes and then via one they financed through one of Cellino's relatives. Barnes only was censured.

Cellino came in for additional punishment, the court said, because he was found to have filed a false retainer agreement in a 1997 case.

Connors, whom Cellino hired to regain his right to practice law, said he was uncertain what Cellino will now do, but said as of Thursday, he was fully reinstated as a lawyer.

"He could walk into a courtroom right now and practice law," Connors said.

By law, Cellino was not allowed to take part in any activities of the Cellino & Barnes firm, and shortly after his suspension, Barnes and his brother Richard began the Barnes Firm in the same Court Street offices with much of the same staff.

A call to the Barnes Firm inquiring about any collaboration with Cellino was not immediately returned.

Marketing experts have said changing the name of the Barnes Firm would be highly unusual since it has spent millions of dollars on television, radio, phone book and billboard ads to establish the new firm.

Connors said Cellino has spent his time off working with his son in the construction business.

Cellino and Barnes fought the discipline charges, and in an unusual, if not unprecedented, part of the closed-door proceedings, called seven judges as character witnesses.

e-mail: mbeebe@buffnews.com

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