Who knew what, when? Officials quiet about clerk of court allegations

Beaufort County officials are saying little about allegations some county staff members knew as early as 2007 that former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith might have been mishandling public funds.

The allegation is one of three claims levied against the county and Smith's successor, Jerri Ann Roseneau, in a wrongful termination suit filed last month by Janice Young, Smith's former deputy. Young was fired July 9 by Smith for alleged insubordination.

Several County Council members, including Chairman Weston Newton, said council members have not been briefed on the suit by county administrator Gary Kubic or county attorney Ladson Howell and declined to comment.

Councilman Paul Sommerville of Lady's Island said he was confident county staff would have taken action if it had knowledge of misdeeds.

"My only comment is that I'm sure that if the county staff that we work with had gotten wind of any kind of impropriety, they would have looked into it," Sommerville said. "Information does not always translate to dastardly deeds."

The clerk of court is elected and doesn't answer to County Council or to Kubic, although the council approves its budget and pays its employees.

Young's attorney, Amy Gaffney of Columbia, said Young knew of conversations Kubic allegedly had with Smith in 2007 in which he questioned the former clerk about "thousands of dollars" in clothing stipends given to her employees.

Smith resigned July 30 after she was charged with embezzling public funds and with misconduct in office -- charges that are unrelated to public money that might have been used for clothing stipends.

The lawsuit said the county failed to properly monitor Smith's use of public funds, setting off a chain of events that ultimately caused Young to lose her job.

The suit also claims Young lost her job in retaliation for her cooperation with investigators looking into Smith's alleged misuse of money in the clerk's office. If true, that would be a violation of South Carolina's whistle-blower law, which makes it illegal for a public employee to be fired, suspended or demoted for reporting wrongdoing.

Young appealed her firing to a county grievance board, which recommended she be reinstated. However, Roseneau didn't rehire her.

Young is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, according to the suit.

Howell, the county attorney, declined to comment on the filing, saying only that he would "not try the case in the newspaper."

The county has until later this month to file its response.