SIMI VALLEY — By 7:30 a.m. Monday, the newly leveled dirt lot next to the East County Courthouse in Simi Valley looked like the back lot of a television studio.
Several camera crews had descended on the courthouse an hour earlier and set up giant microwave dishes to transmit to Los Angeles live pictures of the courtroom where one of the most highly publicized trials in Southern California history will take place.
Although opening statements in the trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King will probably not begin until March, Monday was a day of pretrial motions and journalists were literally tripping over each other to interview those involved in the case.
Arriving attorneys were mobbed by reporters sticking tape recorders and microphones into their faces. One reporter, oblivious to his surroundings, backed into a standing ashtray and fell over.
After the day's brief proceedings, television reporters doing stand-ups in the parking lot struggled to keep their composure--and their hairdos--intact in the stiff Santa Ana winds.
It was a good day of business for catering truck operator George Campbell, stationed in the parking lot outside the courthouse, which lacks a cafeteria. Campbell said he had been busy since 7:30 a.m.
"We sold a lot of sandwiches," he said, adding that most of his customers were reporters.
Campbell and a hot dog vendor will be stationed at the courthouse throughout the trial.
In addition to tasting the local fare, it was the day for dozens of reporters, photographers and Los Angeles court employees to familiarize themselves with the courthouse and the city.
"What's the correct way to pronounce Simi? And what does it mean?" one reporter asked.
"It's pronounced 'Si-MEE,' " another answered. "I don't know what it means."
A few of the 50 journalists, photographers and their crews crammed into the media room that was set up next to the courtroom complained about the tight working conditions.
"We can't eat in here," said Howard Lang, a camera technician for KTTV, who said that journalists are unaccustomed to such strict rules. "We're so used to being slobs."
Meanwhile, Simi Valley residents who stopped by the courthouse to take care of other matters had differing views on whether the city is an appropriate location for the trial of four white officers accused of beating a black motorist.
"I don't think Simi Valley was a good place," resident Anita Squire said. "I've lived here all my life and there are very few black people here . . . and a lot of people in Simi Valley are bigots."
She echoed the concerns of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People that local juries might be biased because Simi Valley is a conservative community and home to many law enforcement officers.
However, resident Tom Leppard disagreed. "I think it was a good idea to have it outside of Los Angeles. If the attorneys are any good at all, once they get through with the selection of the jury, they will get a fair jury. I think this community has those kinds of people in it."
Leppard added that he was surprised at all the attention heaped on Simi Valley in the last few months.
"We've got the Reagan Library and now we got Rodney King," he said. "Nobody ever heard of Simi but I think we'll probably be on the map with these two things."