Smith trial begins today

The trial of former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith is expected to begin today with jury selection at the Beaufort County Courthouse.

Smith, 47, is being tried by 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone on embezzlement and misconduct in office charges.

Stone and Smith's attorney, Mike Macloskie of Beaufort, are expected to make opening arguments Tuesday before Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith of Lancaster. Goldsmith was appointed by S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal to hear the case.

A Beaufort County grand jury indicted Smith on July 30, 2009, on charges of embezzling more than $23,500 from two public accounts in the clerk's office to buy insurance policies for relatives and make payments on a home on Pawleys Island.

Smith was charged with four counts of embezzlement of public funds and one count of misconduct in office. She is free on bond and has pleaded not guilty to all charges. She could not be reached for comment.

Smith, who was about nine months into her third term as clerk of court, faxed her resignation to Gov. Mark Sanford minutes before Stone announced the indictments.

As the trial gets under way, questions remain about federal child support enforcement funds Smith is accused of diverting to the Beaufort County Drug Court, a program that was then run by her husband, Manning Smith.

Stone declined to comment on the status of a U.S. Attorney's Office investigation of Elizabeth Smith's handling of the federal funds that are disbursed to the Clerk's Office through the state Department of Social Services. The amount she allegedly diverted to her husband's program has not been disclosed.

More than a week after his wife was indicted, Manning Smith was stripped of his position by Toal, who has not explained why she removed him. Manning Smith has not been charged with a crime.

Attempts to reach Toal were unsuccessful.

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