The feud between two of Western New York's most famous names has reached an appropriate space: a billboard.
Commuters from the Southtowns are now greeted by a billboard featuring just one of those names, blared in all caps: CELLINO.
The sign is seen from the northbound Skyway just past the Ohio Street exit, and it advertises Cellino & Cellino, a firm that Stephen E. Barnes filed a lawsuit over on Wednesday. Barnes' suit accuses Ross M. Cellino Jr. of secretly starting a firm in an effort to dissolve his old one, the immensely successful Cellino & Barnes.
The new firm is headed by Cellino’s wife, Anna Marie Cellino, and two of their daughters, Jeanna M. Cellino and Annmarie R. Cellino, and the firm insists that Ross Cellino has no involvement in the operation.
Barnes' suit points to Cellino & Cellino's marketing strategy to suggest that the new firm is infringing on the Cellino & Barnes trademark.
On the billboard, in a font size that is nearly as large as the "CELLINO," is the firm's phone number, which has been noted in the suit because of some numbers that many will find familiar.
The number is 888-2020, which is a variation of Cellino and Barnes' current number – 888-8888 – and old number – 854-2020. Both of the numbers have been seared into the memories of Western New Yorkers via Cellino & Barnes' heavily advertised jingles.
Along with the jingles, billboards were ubiquitous in the coast-to-coast rise of Cellino & Barnes, with the two men pictured, usually with a large word like "Injured?" along with the jingle-ready phone number. The new Cellino & Cellino billboard inquires, "Car crash?"
The dispute over the new firm is the latest bad turn in the rocky relationship between Ross Cellino and Barnes. The pair spent more than two decades building one of the nation’s most financially successful injury law firms before May 2017, when Cellino filed a lawsuit saying he could no longer stand working with Barnes and seeking to dissolve the law firm.
Barnes is also seeking a federal court injunction as part of his new lawsuit, which also seeks an unspecified amount in damages.
"We are confident the lawsuit has no merit," Annmarie Cellino said in a statement Wednesday. "The claims are a desperate attempt by Steve Barnes to unreasonably interfere with our representation of clients and our right to practice law. ... In essence, Steve Barnes is attempting to bully my mother, my sister and me from practicing under our own name."