Poor Conditions Try Jurors' Patience : Courts: Shabby, crowded waiting rooms that often lack TV leave panelists in L.A. County bored.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can't drink the water in many Los Angeles County jury assembly rooms. There's a chance you won't even get a seat while you are waiting--if there is a waiting room at all.

Want to call to postpone or cancel jury service? Good luck. Even Gloria Gomez, manager of juror services, admits that you probably will not get through.

Welcome to jury duty in Los Angeles County, where many say it is a wonder anyone serves at all. The creature comforts are minimal, and for some, a disincentive to ever serve again.

Twelve of the county's 28 Superior Court and Municipal Court jury assembly rooms have not been renovated in more than 10 years. Tattered furniture is the norm.

"They are not, in my view, very user-friendly," Gomez said. "Torrance? Boy, I'll tell you, that is a very bad assembly room in every way, shape and form. We don't like it."

Many others aren't much better.

Because the San Fernando courthouse was damaged in the January earthquake, jurors now squeeze in with those in Van Nuys.

Some assembly rooms are so crowded that people are forced to wait in hallways. Some potential jurors are told they can leave to make room for others after they have done most of their 10-day service. Malibu, Gomez said, does not even have a jury room.

Because the rooms often lack televisions, snack machines and even magazines, prospective jurors get bored and edgy.

"I haven't done a . . . thing," commercial engineer Ingram Clark, 70, bellowed as he left the Downtown civil courthouse last Wednesday. "You sit in that chair all day, and there's so damned many people. It's standing room only."

These are serious problems, but there is a budget crisis, noted Gomez, whose office roof leaks. She dreams of soon being able to have a system like that in Kern County, where jurors wait in a large, cool, art-filled room. There is a lunch area, a reading room, cable TV and board games. There are lots of new magazines and newspapers, even personal lockers.

"This place is totally different," Kern County juror Teresa Soto said. "It was built with our comfort in mind."

Jurors in Ventura and Orange counties seem happy to have nice surroundings and things to do to pass the time. Both counties also use what many say is a more tolerable "one day, one trial" system, which requires just one day of service unless a person gets on a jury.

Los Angeles County has rejected that system, saying it would be a logistic nightmare to handle new jury pools each day. To cut costs and make jury service more palatable, the county halved the required 10-day term in 1992, but soon went back to the old system because employers were not cooperating.

County officials also are trying to fix the phone system, which has proved so maddeningly inaccessible that many prospective jurors show up in person, fuming because they could not reach anyone by phone to cancel or postpone their duty. "They get angry as all get-out," Gomez said.

Los Angeles County court officials will soon set up an automated system to handle more calls and allow people to postpone jury service via computer.

"We're looking all the time at making the doggone system more accessible," Gomez said. "Jurors deserve much better."

Times staff writers Rene Lynch and Mark Arax contributed to this story.

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