In the impending business divorce of Ross M. Cellino Jr. and Stephen Barnes, who gets custody of the 888-8888 telephone hotline number?
That is one of the many issues to be decided in the bitter break-up of the two longtime law partners, and a legal action involving the phone number has been filed by Cellino – against Barnes – in the state of Delaware.
In the recently filed Delaware case, Cellino is trying to stop Barnes from using the (800) 888-8888 to solicit clients in California, where there are three Cellino & Barnes offices owned entirely by Barnes.
"There was a legal action to that effect filed by Mr. Cellino in the Delaware courts, and we are in the process of responding to it," said Paul J. Cambria, one of Barnes' attorneys. "We feel the legal action he filed in Delaware is baseless."
Terrence M. Connors, Cellino's attorney, could not be reached for comment on the filing Monday afternoon. In court papers filed last month, Connors accused Barnes of improperly diverting Cellino & Barnes resources to the California offices. Barnes' legal team denied the allegations.
Connors and Cellino said the California offices are a "distinct entity" from the Cellino & Barnes firm, and he said Barnes derives an "overwhelmingly greater percentage" of profits from the California firm than he does from Cellino & Barnes.
In the papers filed last month, Cellino and Connors allege that Barnes spent money from the partnership's firm to benefit his California offices without telling Cellino. They also allege that Barnes's California firm does not adequately reimburse Cellino & Barnes for use of the (800) 888-8888 phone number. The California offices are in Los Angeles, San Diego and Oakland.
According to Robert J. Schreck, a managing attorney with the besieged law firm, "a Delaware corporation formed by Cellino & Barnes in 2013 owns the 888-8888 phone number." But beyond that, Schreck said, "I can't comment."
Cellino shocked the legal community in May when he filed a civil action seeking to dissolve the extremely profitable partnership that he and Barnes began about 25 years ago. Cellino has said he can no longer work with Barnes because of a myriad of business disputes that have arisen between the two men.
Barnes is trying to stop Cellino from breaking up the firm, saying the dissolution would unfairly harm hundreds of employees and thousands of clients throughout the country. The dispute is in litigation before State Supreme Court Judge Deborah A. Chimes.
News staff reporter Maki Becker contributed to this report.