Solicitor investigates possible wrongdoing in Clerk of Court office

The Beaufort County Clerk of Court's office is being investigated by the S.C. Ethics Commission, and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said Wednesday he will review the commission's findings for possible criminal wrongdoing.

Stone said he has been briefed regularly for "several weeks" by Ethics Commission investigators but would not discuss the nature of the complaint that sparked the investigation.

"It wouldn't be proper or ethical for me to discuss the facts underlying the investigation," Stone said. "We're still gathering information."

Herb Hayden, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said investigators forwarded the information to prosecutors because information had "possible criminal elements." Hayden declined to give specifics. It is the policy of the Ethics Commission not to comment on or even acknowledge the existence of ongoing investigations unless probable cause is found, according to Cathy Hazlewood, the commission's general counsel.

The ethics investigation became public Wednesday after the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office released an incident report detailing a complaint by deputy Beaufort County Clerk of Court Janice Young against the husband of Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith. Young said Beaufort County Drug Court Judge Manning Smith threatened her during a phone call June 16.

Two days after being interviewed by Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigators, Young told deputies she did not want to pursue criminal charges, and the Sheriff's Office closed its investigation, according to spokeswoman Cpl. Robin McIntosh.

According to the incident report, Young told deputies that Manning Smith was upset Young had shared with County Finance Director David Starkey financial information regarding an Ethics Commission investigation into the Clerk's Office.

The report said Young indicated in a meeting with Starkey and Deputy County Administrator Bryan Hill "that activity in the 'bondsmen account,' specifically in the month of March 2009 should be reviewed thoroughly" as part of the Ethics Commission's investigation.

Young had shared the "bondsmen" bank statement with the county in "an attempt to reconcile every bank statement held by the county on a month basis," the report said.

Elizabeth Smith and Young worked together for more than two years, according to Suzanne Larson, county spokeswoman. Young's last day at the courthouse was July 10, Larson said. Elizabeth Smith would not say if Young quit or was fired.

Young could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and both Elizabeth Smith and Starkey refused comment on the investigation.

According to the sheriff's incident report, Young said Manning Smith told her "handing your boss over was like me saying, 'I'm going to murder you, Janice, shoot you in the head and spatter your brains all over the sidewalk.'"

Manning Smith told sheriff's investigators that his comment might have been misconstrued, adding that he "often speaks in analogies of violence," according to the report.

He said Wednesday that he never threatened Young.

"I'm from four generations of Southern males who would roll over in their graves and kick up dirt if I didn't so much as open a door for a lady," he said Wednesday. "I would never threaten a woman or anyone else."

The threats caused Young such concern, according to the report, that she changed the locks of her home, slept with a gun and put a chair against her bedroom door.

"This guy is a good shot," Young said of Manning Smith in the report. "He's an excellent shot and he knows that I know that."

Smith acknowledged that he was a "superb" pistol shot in interviews with deputies but said he considered Young to be family.

Elizabeth Smith and Janice Young were best friends, Smith told deputies.

The pair shared an office on the second floor of the Beaufort County Courthouse and even started a business together earlier this year, sewing vestments and other religious garments for area clergy.

Smith said Young and his wife had a falling out, "the likes of which (I'd) never seen," and that he called Young with the intent offinding out "what in the world was going on," according to the report.

"I don't want to prosecute Manning for his actions, at this point, but I want to make sure that everyone understands that I believe his actions were totally inappropriate and caused me great concern," Young wrote to investigators.

Smith said he would love to reconcile with Young.

"If I could talk to Janice, I would love to hear what she has to say about all of this," he said. "I still don't understand what happened."