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DEPUTIES DO THEIR JOBS GUARDEDLY

It's not easy being den mother to 18 adults who can't even watch television by themselves, let alone go outside.

All day, every day, armed baby sitters ride herd over 12 jurors and six alternates sequestered for O.J. Simpson's murder trial.It's a tough job. Just look at three deputy sheriffs reassigned Thursday, no questions asked, by Judge Lance Ito.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block was outraged by the judge's act. So were 13 panelists, who refused to go to work.

Court was canceled Friday so the judge could begin meeting with each protester individually.

Don't blame the deputies, said Block and others familiar with supervising sequestered jurors. The 12 deputies permanently assigned to the Simpson panelists were following orders. Ito's orders, to be exact.

"You have to understand that these deputies who are assigned to that sequestration have been given very specific directions from the judge as to what the jurors would, or would not, be allowed to do," Block explained.

Allegations of deputy misconduct began earlier this month, when dismissed juror Jeanette Harris, who's black, accused some of them of giving preferential treatment to white panelists.

To avoid being influenced by saturating publicity, the jurors live under constant surveillance at an unidentified downtown hotel. Deputies monitor their phone calls, censor their reading material and search their rooms for contraband.

Basically, the only unsupervised activities are sleeping, weekly conjugal visits, bathing and using the restroom.

Deputy dissatisfaction surfaced again Thursday, when a sobbing black female juror begged Ito to release her, saying "I can't take it anymore." After her meeting, Ito replaced the three deputies.

"The judge said he was removing them because he was attempting to build harmony among the jury itself. Obviously he miscalculated that," Assistant Sheriff Michael Graham said.

The three were among several deputies named by Harris, Graham said. It was unclear whether they were specifically mentioned by the woman who complained Thursday, though Block suggested their reassignment was related to her complaints.

Ito will meet with the three deputies Monday, Graham said.

Watching over sequestered jurors is nothing new to deputies assigned as bailiffs to the downtown Criminal Courts building. Watching over them for the duration of a trial, however, is unusual; if jurors are sequestered, it usually is only during deliberations.

John Perno, director of court security services for New York state, said he feels for the sheriff's deputies and their charges.