Hanford attorney Steven Christopher Rivas has been disbarred over allegations he mishandled funds between his client trust and operating accounts in a traffic accident case in which he represented relatives of his, according to a recent California State Bar filing.
Rivas was charged with 14 counts of misconduct, including violations of professional conduct, misrepresentation and failures to pay medical liens, render accounts of client funds and return unearned fees, according to the 52-page decision issued July 26 by the California State Bar, disbarring Rivas.
The state bar's decision is pending final action by the California Supreme Court, an appeal before the state bar's Review Department or expiration of time in which parties to may request further review within the State Bar Court.
The decision resulted from two separate notices of disciplinary charges, the first of which was filed by the state bar Aug. 16, 2016. Rivas, in his response filed the following month, denied all of the allegations.
Rivas was admitted to the bar in California on June 4, 2001, according to his profile at the state bar website.
The disciplinary charges stemmed from Rivas' counsel over an Aug. 18, 2010, auto accident in which his relative's spouse and two children were injured, according to the decision. Rivas agreed to represent the injured parties for free and mediation was entered in July 2013, when insurance settlements were agreed to, according to the decision.
Rivas received two insurance settlement checks, one for $50,000 and the other for $6,000, which were deposited into his client trust account, and he then transferred about $33,000 in separate transactions through the end of August 2013 into his operating account, according to the decision. "[Rivas] had neither the consent of his clients or the lien holders nor any legal authority to unilaterally withdraw any portion of the $56,000 from his trust account at that time," the decision said.
Rivas also "put into play a scheme whereby he was seeking to settle the liens for a small fraction" of what his clients expected, intending to pocket the surplus, according to the decision.
By Nov. 13, 2013, the client trust account balance had been reduced to $40.14 and liens totaling $33,199.36, against the proceeds of Rivas' clients' settlements had not been resolved, according to the decision.