The Sacramento County court system may be going to court itself within the next couple of weeks in a dispute it's having with the Sheriff's Department over security funding.
Sheriff's officials set up the possibility of a legal showdown by informing the courts the law enforcement agency is planning to cut 15 deputies from the 163-officer security force that is in place at courthouses throughout the county.
A top sheriff's official said the agency wants the reduction in place by Aug. 11 to deal with what his office believes will be a $2.2 million funding shortfall in court security over the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Chris Volkers, the Sacramento Superior Court's executive officer, said the local judicial branch can't take the hit.
If the sheriff insists on going through with it, "there is a statute that outlines legal remedies, so we are proceeding," Volkers said.
California's Government Code calls for court and sheriff's officials to first meet with each other to work out the problem. If no agreement can be reached, either side can ask outside parties such as the Administrative Office of the Courts or the California State Sheriffs' Association to step in and help.
The next step would be for either side to take the matter to court.
To head off such a legal showdown, Volkers said her office already has begun discussions with sheriff's representatives and the County Executive's Office.
She said the courts are willing to pressure the state on the sheriff's behalf to get more money for security funding.
"We cannot reduce security in the courtrooms," she said.
The 15 deputies taken out of the courthouses would be reassigned to the jails, said Erik Maness, Sacramento County's chief deputy sheriff.
With fewer deputies in the courts, Maness said some courtrooms are likely to go without bailiffs. Escort times for criminal suspects who are walked up and down and to and from the courtrooms likely would rise, according to Maness, which would probably result in delays in court proceedings.
"A lot has to be worked through before we get there," he said.
As word of the security cutback circulated throughout the courthouse, emails began to zip from judge to judge this week in which they expressed concern about the possibility of being left unprotected in their courtrooms.
"I think the county is going to have to work out as best it can what resources it needs to employ for the needs of the court, and one of those has to be for the safety of judges," Judge David I. Brown said in an interview.
Presiding Judge Laurie M. Earl was on vacation this week and not available for comment, although she has been in touch this week with Volkers.
In the last fiscal year, the sheriff was allocated $25.8 million for court security under a funding formula set up two years ago by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature, according to the state Legislative Analyst's Office. The figure is based on Sacramento County's 5.1 percent share of last fiscal year's $502.5 million that had been approved for statewide court security funding.
Last year's sum left the county $1 million short for court security funding, Maness said.
This year, the court security funding pot is projected to grow to $513.5 million, according to the LAO's office and the state Department of Finance, meaning that the county is expected to receive $26.3 million from the state under the formula.
Maness said his agency's expected $2.2 million shortfall this year is the result of increases related to the "internal cost of employees." According to figures provided by the county, increased salary, pension and Social Security costs for deputies that went into effect June 30 amounted to $1.4 million.
Medical insurance "is a fixed dollar amount and so is not impacted if salaries increase," county spokeswoman Chris Andis said in an email.
According to Maness, "there is no finality" yet to how Sheriff Scott Jones plans to deal with the security funding shortfall.
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.