A long-running feud over who runs the Fairfax County Circuit Court has erupted again in a fiery exchange of letters between the clerk of the court and the chief judge.

Clerk of the Court Warren E. Barry, in a letter to members of a legislative committee that oversees the courts, accused Fairfax's judges of "empire building" and "abusive misuse of judicial influence" because of an arrangement under which they receive direct funding from Fairfax County.

Chief Judge Richard J. Jamborsky, in a letter to an assistant county attorney, said that Barry's letter demonstrates "the clerk's ignorance of sound court management principles and the role" of the chief judge.

The letters are the latest round in a feud that has been simmering for two years. At stake is a special arrangement in Fairfax, under which the county appropriates $1.3 million annually to allow judges to hire their own staffs.

The letters are a prelude to hearings this week before the General Assembly in Richmond, where the two sides will argue over pending legislation that could prohibit the county from giving money directly to the judges to hire staff members.

"I just want the issue clarified," Barry said in an interview. "What I want is for the legislature to say what the county is doing is legal. If not, they have to change the law and allow this or tell the county and judges they can't do it."

Barry, who is seeking election to a second eight-year term, complained that some of his employees are going to work directly for the judges because the county-funded positions pay more.

The dispute over who controls the staff for the judges began in 1988, shortly after then-Chief Judge Lewis Hall Griffith took over and submitted a budget to the county, sidestepping the traditional procedure of including the request in the clerk's budget. As a result, Barry threatened to sue Griffith and the county for usurping his constitutional authority. Nevertheless, the county awarded Griffith with 28 employees for the judicial operations staff, which receives $1.3 million a year from the county, according to Barry's letter.

Since then, Barry has challenged the constitutionality of such a set up, saying it makes it impossible for Fairfax judges to be impartial in litigation affecting the county government.

Jamborsky, who became chief judge after Griffith retired, said in a letter that he was disappointed by the clerk's decision to "air publicly his puzzling quarrel with Circuit Court Judges. It's also embarrassing."

The judge wrote that the clerk has hindered the court's efforts to solve the problems of case backlog "through petty criticisms, gamesmanship, public attack and an overall undermining of the efficiency, productivity and morale of all employees who must work in the Judicial Center."

Jamborsky said funding from the county is essential because the state does not hire enough staff members to handle a growing caseload.

Del. James F. Almand (D-Arlington) said that Barry and Jamborsky will speak before the full Committee for Courts of Justice on Thursday. Almand said in an interview yesterday that he did not think the bill pushed by Barry would pass the committee.

"Enough issues and questions have been raised that I think it will be appropriate for the Judicial Committee to look at it," Almand said. The Judicial Committee is made up of the chief justice of the State Supreme Court and other judges at various levels.