Judges Plead Lack of Space at Culver Court

Times Staff Writer

The 30-year-old Culver Municipal Court has no jury room, no cafeteria and inadequate parking and is so cramped that jurors must wait in hallways with defendants, two Municipal Court judges say.

Judges Harold I. Cherness and Bert Glennon Jr. have asked Los Angeles County and Culver City officials to include a new courthouse in a proposed city hall/civic center that city officials want to complete by 1989.

But county officials have said they have no money for the project and that the city will have to pay much of the $12-million cost of a new courthouse.

"We agree that the court facility is overcrowded and cramped," said William Kreger, chief of asset development for the county's chief administrative officer. "Our problem is we don't have any funds to make an up-front contribution."

City officials last week decided to look for funding for a new city hall along with a location big enough to include a courthouse.

Cherness and Glennon have urged city officials to keep the courthouse in Culver City because they fear that county officials might consolidate the court with other Westside judicial districts and construct a larger courthouse outside the city.

Cherness said he preferred a small, community court over a larger one covering a broad area. Furthermore, he said that he and Glennon are familiar enough with the community programs in Culver City to know which ones to send convicts to as an alternative to a jail term. Also, city police can get warrants more quickly because the court is close to the Police Department, he said.

The judges said they favor replacing the three-courtroom facility at 4130 Overland Ave. with one that has four courtrooms, a jury room, a cafeteria, staff offices and an office for two county deputy district attorneys. They said the new facility would take care of overcrowding and parking problems facing prospective jurors.

Culver City courthouse jurors have had to sit on benches, chairs or the floor in the court's narrow hallways since the 1970s when the county converted the jury assembly room into a traffic and small-claims court. Cherness said jurors should have their own room.

"You don't want jurors in the halls with potential litigants there as well," Cherness said. "Sometimes you will have lawyers talking to their clients in front of the jurors in the hall. Just the fact that (jurors may talk to defendants) is unfair, improper and bad for the system. . . . Jurors will get an impression of (defendants) outside of the courtroom."

Since the court has no waiting room or cafeteria, Cherness said he occasionally allows the jurors to wait across the street at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, where they can have coffee and doughnuts. But usually they must stay close at hand in case he and trial attorneys agree to send a case to jury.

Jurors are assigned a date to appear for duty. The assignments fall on Mondays, when the court holds its jury trials. Jurors not called by 5 p.m. are required to return the following Monday. They arrive at 10 a.m. and have an hour for lunch.

Unlike some other courts, jurors in Culver City may not inquire by telephone whether they will be needed, Mary Young, court administrator, said.

They are paid $10 a day and receive 15 cents for each mile they drive to the courtroom, she said.

Mark Goedde, a 28-year-old computer programmer from Venice, came to the court as a prospective juror this week dressed in jeans and sandals and sat on the floor with two magazines and an apple. He said he didn't like the waiting, particularly in the halls, which he said had no air conditioning.

"What's bad about it is that in the jury handbook they ask you to dress as you would at a business meeting. I'm not going to wear a suit and tie to sit on the floor," he said. "I think they should have a place for us to go and relax."

Terry Reutgen, 25, a data processing coordinator from Redondo Beach, was also on the floor, reading some work she brought from her office. She said Santa Monica Municipal Court, where she served on a jury a few years ago, had a waiting room with a television and card tables.

"I remember it being a lot more comfortable. You'd be at a desk there if you had work to do," she said. "I was disappointed when I heard I was assigned" to the Culver court.

Young said that redesigning by the county over the years has caused security problems inside the courthouse.

Judge Glennon's chambers, formerly the court clerk's office, are between the holding cell and the courtroom, and prisoners are led past his office to be arraigned, she said. Commissioners deciding traffic and small-claims cases must walk from their chambers through a public hallway to get to the court, instead of from an office safely behind the bench.

"It's not the kind of security we would like," Young said.

Young said parking has been a problem for the past 15 years. The court's 60 spaces are not enough to handle the public and the approximately 40 jurors summoned each week.

"Spaces allotted judges are constantly being used by the public. There is double and triple parking in both (court) lots," she said. "There's no parking for the sheriff's bus that transfers criminals."

Kreger said the Culver City court is not alone in its problems. He said the state has given priority to more than a dozen county courthouses to receive funds for rebuilding. The list includes municipal courts in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles, but not Culver City.

Kreger said Culver City could pay the initial construction costs of the new courthouse. When the building is finished, the county could sell off the old courthouse and turn the money over to the city. He said, however, that he is not sure how much the building is worth.

The city Redevelopment Agency has estimated that the courthouse is worth about $2.5 million. The cost of the new courthouse would be about $12.6 million with about 200 parking spaces, the agency staff reported. The figure, however, does not include land cost, it reported.

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