BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – It still didn’t seem real. October was supposed to be the start of a new chapter for Ross Cellino. And it was. But it included a cruel shock. Reflecting on it all from his office, it still didn’t seem right.
“I’m here today talking to you and I’m thinking, ‘Why isn’t Steven talking with you and me?'”
Cellino and Steve Barnes were finally set to begin operating their own law firms on October 12th. But of course, Barnes died just 10 days earlier when the plane he was piloting crashed in Genesee County.
“It’s not a happy time for the Barnes family. And it’s not a happy time for the Cellino and Barnes family here right now,” Cellino said. “I still consider it the Cellino and Barnes family.”
They had been running Cellino and Barnes together since 1995. Then, in 2017, a high profile divorce commenced. Cellino sued to dissolve the firm citing “various differences of opinion”. Barnes responded in court papers two months later saying Cellino “did not have a significant role in (Cellino and Barnes’) functioning as a law firm”. All of it played out publicly. But despite the public perception, Cellino says it never grew to a feeling of personal hatred between the two.
“That’s not even close to being the case,” he said. “Steve and I were in a battle. It was a court battle. We tried to win. We both fought hard to win our battle. But that didn’t take away from our friendship and our partnership that we had developed over the past 25 years.”
“I mean, the truth is we had a difference of opinion on certain things,” Cellino added. “But it wasn’t bad blood between the two of us. We actually were close to each other.”
Cellino says he wanted to run his own ship. One thing he wanted to do was put a manager in each office. He now has that opportunity in charge of Cellino Law.
The entire atmosphere changed on October 2nd, when Barnes passed away. He had been traveling to New Hampshire to pick up his niece, Elizabeth, for a family celebration. Both of them died in the crash.
“When I learned of the crash and that there were no survivors, the last three years sort of disappeared from my mind,” Cellino said. “All the good things between Steve and I came to the forefront.”
After a one week delay, both Cellino Law and The Barnes Firm opened their doors. According to Cellino, the settlement agreement calls for the firms to help each other “essentially financially”. Rich Barnes, Steve’s brother, has become the face of The Barnes Firm.
“We’re driven to honor (Steve’s) legacy. That’s a motivating factor in what we do,” Robert Schreck, managing attorney for The Barnes Firm, told News 4 on October 5th.
While The Barnes Firm moved to an office at 500 Pearl, Cellino law stayed in the Main Place Tower officers where Cellino and Barnes was once headquartered.
“Honestly, it still feels the same. It’s just that there is that void,” Cellino said. “Both Steve and I were excited about starting our new ventures because we had the foundation of what we built together.”
“It’s been really a very difficult time for us to really get excited about the start of the firm,” he added. “But we’re excited.”
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.