On Wednesday, March 6, 2024, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility Ad Hoc Hearing Committee released its report and recommendation of suspension, stayed upon the condition of one year of unsupervised probation against attorney Steven Villarreal.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Steven Villarreal,” with case no. 23-BD-032.

The charges cited the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1(a)(b) and 1.3(a).

The Committee found that Villarreal violated the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding competence and diligence while representing client Adriana Hernandez in an immigration matter. Hernandez had sought Villarreal’s help to reopen her removal case from 1998 and adjust her immigration status under Section 245(i) of immigration law.

However, when Villarreal filed a motion to reopen Hernandez’s case in September 2019, he failed to request or attach necessary documentation that would have demonstrated her eligibility for status adjustment. Specifically, Villarreal neglected to provide evidence of Hernandez’s mother’s citizenship, their family relationship, or proof of Hernandez’s presence in the U.S. on a key date, as required. Due to these deficiencies, the immigration court denied the motion.

An expert witness who testified at Villarreal’s disciplinary hearing stated that his lack of preparation fell below competent representation standards and directly resulted in the motion denial. The Committee agreed, ruling that Villarreal’s actions constituted a serious deficiency in competence and diligence, violating Rules 1.1 and 1.3.

Hernandez was prejudiced by Villarreal’s misconduct, as she lost her initial case and was forced to hire a new lawyer to remedy the issues. However, Villarreal did not acknowledge wrongdoing or express remorse. He declined to participate in the disciplinary proceedings after filing an answer denying responsibility.

Considering aggravating and mitigating factors, the Committee recommended Villarreal receive a 30-day suspension, stayed in favor of one year of probation with required continuing legal education. While Villarreal’s misconduct was serious in impacting an important immigration matter, the Committee found the facts did not warrant an actual suspension period like other cases involving dishonesty or more egregious behavior.

The recommendation states:

“For the foregoing reasons, the Committee finds that Respondent violated Rules 1.1(a) and (b) and 1.3(a) and should receive the sanction of a 30-day suspension, stayed upon the condition of one year of unsupervised probation and the completion of required CLE classes as articulated above.”

According to avvo.com, Mr. Villarreal is an attorney in Houston, Texas. He acquired his law license in the District of Columbia in 2003.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.