Drug Court judge removed from the bench as investigation continues

Beaufort County Drug Court Judge Manning Smith has been stripped of his seat on the bench, just more than a week after his wife was indicted on charges of embezzlement and misconduct in office and resigned as clerk of court.

S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal signed an order Monday rescinding Smith's powers to preside over the Drug Court for the 14th Judicial Circuit, a post he had held since June 15, 2001.

"I have no idea what the underlying cause of the chief justice's decision was," said 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.

Toal's order says a new judge may be appointed to Drug Court upon a joint request from Chief Administrative Judge Howard King of the 14th Circuit, the resident judges of the 14th Judicial Circuit and Stone.

Stone said he plans to meet with Circuit Court judges in coming weeks to recommend Smith's replacement.

Attempts to reach Toal and Manning Smith for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Elizabeth Smith, the former clerk of court, resigned her post just minutes before Stone announced July 30 that a grand jury had indicted her on five charges. An S.C. Ethics Commission investigation continues, and Stone would not say if he expects more charges. Attempts to reach Ethics Commission executive director Herb Hayden on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

It is not clear if the 62-year-old judge's dismissal is related to his wife's problems. However, one county official said Tuesday the Ethics Commission probe has led the county to hold back its funding to Drug Court. The $47,500 that the Beaufort County Council has earmarked for the program for the coming fiscal year will not be released until the investigation is over, per orders from the council and county administrator Gary Kubic, said deputy county administrator Bryan Hill.

Stone said his office would oversee the administrative functions of Drug Court until a replacement is named. The program diverts nonviolent offenders facing drug charges from prison into rehabilitation programs to try to stem their substance abuse.

The Ethics Commission investigation into the clerk's office became public last month after the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office released results of its investigation of a complaint against Manning Smith. Former deputy clerk of court Janice Young told authorities the judge threatened her during a phone call in June. Young dropped her complaint two days after deputies took her statement.

In interviews with deputies, Young said Manning Smith was upset that she had talked to county officials about the Ethics Commission's investigation into clerk's office finances.

A member of the state bar since earning her law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1995, Elizabeth Smith has been temporarily suspended from practicing law in the state. The S.C. Supreme Court granted a request last week from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an arm of the state Commission on Lawyer Conduct, to place her on interim suspension because of the indictments.

The counsel's request said she "poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or the administration of justice." She would have to be reinstated by the court to ever practice law again in the state.

In her first public comments since the indictments, Smith apologized in an e-mail last week to members of the Beaufort County Republican Party, writing, "I am sorely grieved for sullying any part of the honor of our party, our state, our county and country."

"I believed and still believe that my only way of communicating my reverence for my former office, the party, the people of Beaufort County and the state of South Carolina was to resign immediately," Smith wrote. "To my mind, any public office is a stewardship, afforded by the trust and confidence of the citizens and must be relinquished at that moment its dignity is compromised in any way.

"I beg pardon of everyone scandalized by the circumstances, especially as presented by the media."

Toal appointed 6th Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith of Lancaster to hear Elizabeth Smith's case and preside over her arraignment hearing, which will mean that proceeding could take place in Lancaster County Circuit Court. A date for the hearing has not been set.

The hearing is expected to serve as Smith's bond hearing and when she will enter her plea regarding the charges, Stone said. She will not be arrested or booked into the Beaufort County Detention Center in the interim, he added.