New drug court judge hopes to put controversy behind her and the program

Carol Ruff says she is ready to move past the recent controversy that has plagued Beaufort County's drug court and steer it back on track.

Ruff, 42, a Lady's Island attorney, was appointed last week by 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone and the circuit's judges to preside over the court. Ruff replaces Manning Smith, whose judgeship was rescinded last month by S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal for undisclosed reasons.

Smith had held the position since June 15, 2001.

Ruff served as the drug court's associate judge, filling in for Smith when needed, and acted as the Beaufort County Juvenile Drug Court judge from 2002 to 2006. That court was terminated in 2006 because of a lack of money, Ruff said.

"(Ruff) had a very good reputation as a judge that was firm but fair," Stone said. "She is someone who can work with the participants in this program, be firm with them but also compassionate. She's going to do a tremendous job."

Stone said Ruff, who co-owns a law firm on with her husband, Harley Ruff, will work for free, forgoing the $60,000 salary Smith earned last year.

"I think that says a lot about the kind of person she is and her commitment to this program," Stone said.

Ruff held court the past two weeks and said the program has not been affected by the controversy surrounding the departure of her predecessor.

"We've had a seamless transition," she said. "There's been no disruption in our court."

Smith's wife, former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith, is charged with embezzling $23,500 from two public accounts. An S.C. Ethics Commission investigation also indicates that Smith was funneling money from a federally funded child support enforcement account to the drug court.

If Toal names Ruff the permanent judge, Ruff will have the power to impose sanctions, such as public service work or additional treatment, for those who violate conditions of the drug court's treatment program. Attempts to reach Toal were not successful.

The program diverts nonviolent offenders facing drug charges from prison into rehabilitation programs to try to stem their substance abuse. Beaufort County is the only county of five in the 14th Judicial Circuit to have a drug court.

"This is the best solution to help these defendants recover from their addiction and become active, contributing members of society," said Ruff, a member of the state bar since 1995. "This program prevents them from going back into the system and leading useless lives. It gets them out of that cycle."The program currently has nine participants, Stone said.