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Trying time in court

A CLOSER LOOK -- A

November 05, 2001

Deepa Bharath

NEWPORT-MESA -- In the world of attorneys, plaintiffs and defendants,

the phrase "lengthy legal process" is as commonplace and as prevalent as

turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

Civil and criminal trials take their own course and their length of

time depends on several factors -- the defense, case investigation,

discovery, the complexity of the case and something as basic as

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attorneys' schedules.

A seemingly simple misdemeanor case like the one brought by the

district attorney against Newport Beach's bad boy, Dennis Rodman, for

noise code violation dragged on for five months without as much as a

plea.

On the other hand, a much more serious and complex case -- the murder

trial involving Steven Allen Abrams, who killed two Costa Mesa children

by driving his car through their preschool playground -- was resolved in

about a year and a half after the incident happened.

Abrams was charged with the murders in May 1999. The trial crossed

three phases and ended in September 2000 as the jury declared him guilty,

sane when he committed the crimes and handed him a penalty of life in

prison without the possibility of parole.

Also seemingly expedited was another murder case involving Eric

Bechler, the father of three from Newport Heights who was found guilty of

bludgeoning to death his millionaire wife, Pegye Bechler, during a

boating trip off the coast of Newport Beach four years ago.

Pegye Bechler's body was never found. But that did not stop a jury

from finding him guilty of the crime in about a year after he was

arrested. It took the police about two years to gather necessary evidence

to arrest Bechler, but the legal process was a lot shorter. The case is

in the appeal process now.

But not all cases move fast and they probably should not, said Newport

Beach attorney Ron Cordova, who is defending Costa Mesa City Councilman

Chris Steel in his pending perjury case.

The Orange County district attorney filed two felony charges against

Steel stating that he allowed resident Richard Noack to sign election

nomination papers for his wife during the 2000 election, and also

permitted himself to sign for Alice Billioux, a legally blind woman,

during the 1998 election.

Prosecutors allege Steel committed perjury by certifying all

signatures as genuine when he knew they were not exactly signed by the

people who nominated him.

Those charges were filed more than five months ago, but the case has

taken several complex and unexpected turns.

A Superior Court Judge in July threw out a civil lawsuit brought

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