Clerk Elizabeth Smith to return to court this week -- as a defendant

For more than eight years, Elizabeth Smith oversaw the daily operations of the Beaufort County Courthouse.

This week , she will return to the same courthouse for the first time since resigning in July after she was indicted on charges of embezzlement and misconduct in office.

Smith will appear Friday in Beaufort County Circuit Court to be read the charges against her and learn when her trial might begin.

Though largely a formality, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said Smith's attendance at the hearing is required: "... she's going to be treated the same as any other defendant, so we're calling her and she must appear."

Smith and her attorney, Beaufort lawyer Mike Macloskie, appeared in a Lancaster County court Aug. 25 for an arraignment hearing, during which she pleaded not guilty to four counts of embezzlement of public funds and one count of misconduct in office.

Judge Brooks Goldsmith, appointed by S.C. Supreme Court Jean Toal to hear Smith's case, set Smith's bond at $25,000 and ordered her to report to the Beaufort County Detention Center the following day for booking. Smith reported to the jail as instructed and was released on her own recognizance 23 minutes later, according to the county's online jail log.

S.C. Ethics Commission investigators allege that Smith embezzled more than $23,500 from two public accounts to buy insurance policies for relatives and make payments on a home on Pawleys Island. The investigation is ongoing.

She also faces an investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on possible misuse of child support enforcement funds that were diverted to county Drug Court, which was presided over by her husband, Manning Smith, according to Stone. Manning Smith was removed from the bench last month by Toal.

If convicted, Elizabeth Smith faces five to 10 years on each embezzlement charge and could only hold public office again if the money is repaid and she is approved by two-thirds of the General Assembly, according to state law.