Sheriff vs. Supervisors -- Fight over Authority Could Affect Public Safety

FRESNO, Calif. County supervisors rescinded her order last month to cut the jail positions and now the fight has moved to court.

Jason Berry is not in court as the sheriff fights supervisors over budget authority, but he looms large over the decision.

Berry is an accused burglar who was released from the Fresno County jail twice and re-arrested for new crimes both times.

He's one of more than 1,000 prisoners who got out early as Sheriff Mims closed part of the jail to cut her budget and sent out pink slips to 23 correctional officers.

"She just stews over them and it has a huge impact on her and the rest of us," said Undersheriff Scott Jones.

County supervisors had ordered the budget trimming, but when constituents complained about people like Berry getting out of jail, they took steps to keep the sheriff from cutting the correctional officers.

Their attorney says the unusual move was necessary because of the terrible economy.

"In historical context, this is the worst crisis since the great depression," Bruce Johnson, the deputy Fresno County counsel, told Judge Donald Franson, Jr.

"I don't think anybody's going to argue that. You're lucky the court's open today," Franson joked.

That lighter moment led into more serious argument.

Sheriff Mims says the meddling by supervisors is illegal. She claims that only the sheriff can decide how to allocate her budget to keep the public safe, and that she's keeping cops on the street when she cuts officers at the jail.

"When you call 911, do you want someone picking up the line on the other end?" asked her attorney James Touchstone. "Do you want a sheriff's deputy arriving at your front doorstep to deal with that emergency situation?"

Action News talked to a few county supervisors about the court case, but their attorney told them not to comment.

The judge didn't issue a decision Friday, but he said he'd have one soon.

He gave one indication of how he'd rule when he told the sheriff's lawyers not to worry about whether he'd allow the layoffs.

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