Judge should say 'no' to Elizabeth Smith

The former clerk of court received light sentences for stealing public's money; she should not get early release from probation.

info@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2012 

Former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith has had enough breaks from the judicial system after she was caught stealing public money.

She deserves no more leniency.

Smith was convicted in state court of embezzling $23,500 and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of using $338,500 in federal child support enforcement money to pay her husband's salary as Beaufort County's drug court judge.

She served no time in jail in either case. She was put on probation for both the state and federal charges and paid restitution and fines. She was sentenced to house arrest for six months on the federal charge. She had to do 200 hours of community service as part of her state sentence.

Smith got off easy, but instead of recognizing that, she asked for and got an early end to her two years of federal probation.

Now she's asking for an early end to her five years of state probation.

U.S. District Judge Sol Blatt Jr. said "yes" to the early end of federal probation. We hope Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith says "no" on the state probation.

Her probation officers didn't object to her early releases, but had anybody asked the people of Beaufort County, they undoubtedly would have heard a resounding "no."

Fortunately, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, who prosecuted Smith on the state charges, is objecting to the early release from state probation. Good for him.

In his motion objecting to the request, Stone writes, "She did not acknowledge that she was wrong, nor did she apologize to the people who put their trust in her. The evidence presented in court showed that instead of being remorseful, she felt entitled."

We suspect that same sense of entitlement is behind her efforts to get out of serving her full sentences, as lenient as they were. Smith should not be indulged; she should be punished.

Look at her attorney's response to the early end of federal probation: "Elizabeth is a very sweet person who got caught up in some very unfortunate things."

Unless she was somehow forced to write the checks tht benefited her family, she was caught up in "unfortunate things" of her own making.

Stone put it well in his closing argument at her state trial in 2010: "What do we tell our children? We tell them ... don't take something that doesn't belong to you. It's that basic. If we expect as much from our children, we should expect as much from our public officials."

Smith has had more than her share of chances -- and more than enough leniency from the court system. Finishing out her state probation might just help the message sink in that the rules apply to her, too.

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