When two dozen disgruntled mutual fund investors picketed Great Western Financial Corp.'s annual meeting last week, the giant thrift responded with cold water - literally.

Employees doled out cups of water to cool the placard-waving demonstrators as they marched in the southern California heat.

"It was a hot day, and we didn't want anyone to be uncomfortable," said a spokesman for the Chatsworth, Calif.-based thrift.

But Great Western's hospitality only went so far. The protesters had turned out to draw attention to two lawsuits they have filed against the thrift.

The lawsuits contend that Great Western had duped the investors into buying mutual funds by saying they were as safe as any bank product. The pickets carried placards showing how much they said they lost.

A Great Western spokesman was reluctant to discuss the thrift's attitude toward the protest. "If there are statements that are designed to put us in a bad light, it is going to engender some resentment," he said.

He was more certain when asked about the protest's impact on the annual meeting: "It was a nonevent."

Thirty investors are parties to the lawsuits, which were filed last month in federal district court and state superior court. They are seeking undisclosed damages.

Great Western executives maintain that the bank and its brokers have done nothing wrong, and that all fund customers routinely receive disclosures about the uninsured nature of investment products.

"We are confident that the facts will speak for themselves and that we will successfully resolve this litigation once we have had an opportunity to present our evidence in court," said senior vice president Ian D. Campbell.

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