Stevens must stand trial

By Bill Drake
Special to the Tribune

A Superior Court judge held Tuesday that there is "reasonable and probable cause to believe" that former North Coast Water District Manager Dave Stevens is guilty on 11 felony counts as charged and must face a full-scale jury trial.

Stevens, accused months ago of misuse of public funds, will be arraigned July 15 on all counts. In a strongly worded comment, at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing just before 5 p.m. yesterday, Judge George A. Miram added: "It is clear to this court that the North Coast County Water District rate payers have been done wrong.

"An ostrich like inaction and inattention of the board of directors to the repeated theft of public funds is the best-case scenario," the judge said.

"The worst-case scenario suggests complicity in the theft through purposeful inaction and wishful thinking.

"In either event, this court has little doubt that the fair-haired boy-treatment of David Stevens by the board facilitated and possibly encouraged the continuing theft of public funds by Mr. Stevens."

Stevens will stand trial on 11 felony counts, including misuse of his expense account and district credit card, misapplication of overtime, inappropriately giving himself a pay raise, as well as allegations dealing with the sale of district water boxes to Chuck Gust.

He faces also one misdemeanor count involving the alleged petty theft from a Pacifica convenience store.

The harsh criticism by Judge Miram brought a dramatic end to what had been a seemingly humdrum day of testimony. Before the final afternoon session began, Steven's attorney, Joseph O'Sullivan, predicted the judge probably would hold his client over for trial and noted a full trial would provide a much better opportunity to prove Stevens' innocence. However, the intensity of Judge Miram's comments was not anticipated.

The judge added a hand-written postscript to his opinion, noting that "the board had a guardian angel in the form of Roberta Bechtel ...but chose to scorn her." Mrs. Bechtel, former district office manager, supplied the early indication of problems during a meeting at a Millbrae restaurant with officials.

"The public monies involved are entrusted to the district and its directors," said Judge Miram. "Through the directors, such monies are entrusted to the general manager. The public deserves and the law demands close attention to these funds."

He added: "What the public got here was ignorance, inattention and deceit. The North Coast County Water District rate payers deserve better than what they got."

The judge denied O'Sullivan's contention that some of the charges should be wiped out because the statute of limitations had expired. He held the defendant had failed to establish "by a preponderance of evidence that the statutes had run out."