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Barnes' girlfriend sues Cellino, law firm; seeks $3.7 million

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Cellino barnes B&W

Ross Cellino, left, and Steve Barnes. 

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There's more collateral damage from the impending breakup of the Cellino & Barnes law firm, with partner Stephen Barnes' girlfriend now suing partner Ross M. Cellino Jr.

Ellen B. Sturm, an attorney with the personal injury law firm, is seeking $3.7 million in a lawsuit against the firm and Cellino, alleging both have withheld an incentive payment she's owed from a large settlement the firm won for a client in a product liability lawsuit.

Sturm, identified as Barnes' girlfriend in the suit, says she worked for seven years on a lawsuit that was settled in 2018 and that she called "one of the largest personal-injury settlements in American history." The case was a "highly complex products liability case" and the amount of the settlement is confidential, according to the suit.

Sturm alleges breach of contract and state labor law violations. She asserts that the firm agreed in early 2012 to pay her and two other attorneys a total of 20% of the firm's fee in the case. The three would split the 20% based on how much work each did on the case.

Barnes and Sturm have been in a romantic relationship since before she was hired by the firm in February 2009, according to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that Cellino has denied payment to Sturm and taken a position with "no rational explanation."

"Cellino has thus cynically abused his position of power at the firm in an effort to seek retribution against Barnes through his longtime girlfriend Sturm," according to the suit.

One of the other attorneys has been paid his share, according to Sturm's lawsuit.

What Sturm is owed is based on the firm's fees, not the full settlement amount. Her suit says her 8% share of the firm's "net legal fee" is $936,221.

This is the latest chapter in the public breakup of the nationally known law firm.

In January, the firm's breakup took a big step, with both sides agreeing to some terms of a dissolution, though other issues remain as the lawsuit remains unresolved.

Cellino filed a lawsuit in 2017 seeking to dissolve the firm because he could no longer stand to work with Barnes due to disagreements over personnel, finances, advertising and marketing strategies and other issues.

One of the flash points was when Barnes refused to let the firm hire one of Cellino's daughters, according to his suit.

Terrence M. Connors, Cellino's attorney, said Sturm's lawsuit "highlights why Ross dissolved Cellino & Barnes."

"He simply does not agree with preferential treatment for any lawyer in the firm and that will be one of the cornerstones of Cellino Law," Connors said.

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