In the grand scheme of the judicial system, it was a small gesture.
But Judge Brooks Goldsmith's decision to turn down former Beaufort Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith's request for an early release from state probation sent a big message to Smith and to the rest of us: There are consequences for betraying the public trust.
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.
Goldsmith sentenced Smith to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service in September 2010 after a Beaufort County jury found her guilty of writing checks from public accounts to help pay for insurance premiums and a vacation home.
In 2011, she was sentenced to six months of house arrest and a two-year probation in federal court. That probation ended a year early when a federal judge granted her request for a reduction in October 2012.
Smith paid back the $23,500, and paid $68,500 in restitution before pleading guilty to the federal charge, as well as a $100 special assessment people convicted of felony charges must pay. She also pays a $100 a month probation fee to the state.
She should count her lucky stars she didn't have to spend time in jail. Instead, she got early release from two years of probation on the federal charge and was back in court Tuesday trying to do the same for her five years of state probation.
Goldsmith's decision was probably due in large part to 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone's stalwart insistence that Smith pay a price for her betrayal of trust.
Stone took the opportunity to point out Smith's lack of stated remorse for what she'd done.
"Unfortunately, I've prosecuted a number of public officials," he said. "... The one central thing I see for all of them is this sense of entitlement, this sense that the rules don't apply to them. She has damaged this entire court system, violated the public trust and never once apologized."
She certainly did herself no favors by failing to show up for Tuesday's hearing. Her attorney, Lionel Lofton, cited "health issues."
Lofton didn't help Smith's cause in the court of public opinion when he said Smith wanted to end her probation early to travel to the United Kingdom to visit relatives over the Christmas holidays.
Stone said the relatives she wanted to visit were the some of the same people for whom she paid insurance premiums with taxpayer money.
Lofton maintains Smith has complied with the terms of her sentence and told the judge, "Enough is enough."
Indeed, enough is enough. Smith didn't pay all that high a price for her crimes; she should stop seeking even more leniency. We're glad to see Goldsmith didn't give it to her in this instance.