Chief magistrate requests audit of court's four accounts

Beaufort County Chief Magistrate Judge Darlene Smith has requested an audit of four bank accounts used by her court after an internal examination found discrepancies between one account's bank statements and the court's case management system.

No more than about $10,000 is misplaced, and the audit should take no more than a month, according to Deputy County Administrator Bryan Hill.

Beaufort County will pay accountants from the Columbia firm of Scott McElveen $15,000 to perform the audit.

S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal appointed Smith to replace Rita Simmons, who retired in October after 24 years on the bench.

Auditors will review Magistrate Court bank statements for three accounts back to 2006 and review an internal audit in October, during which employees discovered excess money in a fourth account, Hill said.

"What that tells me is that either someone input the data incorrectly, or the money was meant to go to another account," Hill said. "It would be a much bigger problem if it was the other way around. We don't suspect any kind of impropriety. This is more of a formality."

There is no criminal investigation into the Magistrate Court's finances, said Daniel Brownstein, spokesman for 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone.

Both Hill and County Administrator Gary Kubic described the audit as "routine."

Attempts to reach Smith and Simmons were unsuccessful.

Magistrate courts set bail, issue search and arrest warrants, and hold trials of defendants charged with criminal offenses subject to a fine of less than $500 or fewer than 30 days in jail.

However, the magistrate's audit will have to wait until Scott McElveen finishes a forensic audit of 12 accounts in Clerk of Court's office. It is not known when that audit will be completed.

Questionable activity in the Clerk of Court's office accounts resulted in the July 30 indictment of Elizabeth Smith, former Beaufort County clerk of court, on multiple counts of embezzling public funds and misconduct in office. Smith resigned hours before the grand jury indictments were announced.

Though they've hired the same firm to conduct the audit, county officials emphasized that similarities between the magistrate court's finances and the clerk of court's finances end there.

"There is no connectivity there," Kubic said. "It's more a matter of convenience than anything else. They were already dug into our books and familiar with the accounts."

Hill said the county hired external auditors to ensure the process was as transparent as possible.