Former clerk of court employee must wait to refile wrongful termination suit

A judge dismissed a wrongful termination lawsuit last month against Beaufort County filed by a former clerk of court employee until her former boss is tried for embezzlement and misconduct in office, according to court records.

Circuit Judge Edward Cottingham of Bennettsville dismissed Janice Young's lawsuit against the county without prejudice May 17. The ruling leaves Young free to refile her suit once former Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith resolves charges she took $23,500 from public accounts to pay for insurance premiums and a vacation home on Pawleys Island. Smith has pleaded not guilty.

Young said she was satisfied with Cottingham's decision.

"I respect Judge Cottingham's ruling, and I look forward to the disclosure of the results of the audit of the Clerk's Office, as I feel it will corroborate the allegations of my case," Young said in an e-mail. That audit is still ongoing.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone has said he hopes to prosecute Smith's case before the one-year anniversary of her indictment by a Beaufort County grand jury July 31, though no trial date has been set.

Young claimed in her lawsuit, filed in November, that Smith fired her in July because Young cooperated with an S.C. Ethics Commission investigation into the former clerk's use of public funds. Young said her firing violated the state's whistle-blower law and that county officials knew Smith was giving her employees thousands of dollars in improper clothing stipends and they did nothing to stop it.

Young appealed her termination to a county grievance board, which recommended in September that Young be reinstated. However, Jeri Ann Roseneau, the new clerk of court, chose not to rehire her. Roseneau, who also is a defendant in the lawsuit, can accept or reject a recommendation by the grievance committee, according to the county's employee handbook.

In a filing last year, an attorney for Beaufort County denied county officials had prior knowledge of Smith's alleged wrongdoing, and claims the county should be dropped as a defendant in the lawsuit because county officials have no authority over the clerk of court, which is an elected position.

Beaufort County attorney Ladson Howell declined to comment Friday on Cottingham's ruling.