Former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith will make her first appearance in a federal courtroom next month to face allegations she improperly used federal child-support enforcement funds.
And when Smith, 47, is arraigned Oct. 27 in Charleston before Federal Magistrate Judge Robert Carr, she won't bring the same legal team.
On Tuesday, a Beaufort County jury found Smith guilty in state court of writing checks worth $23,500 from public accounts to help pay insurance premiums for relatives and to make payments on a vacation home.
She escaped jail time and was instead sentenced to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
However, she was charged the next day in federal court with one count of unlawful conversion of public funds for allegedly writing at least five unauthorized checks worth a total of $338,500 from federal child-support enforcement funds. Smith allegedly used the money to help pay the salary of her husband, Manning Smith, while he ran the Beaufort County Drug Court, and for other Drug Court costs, prosecutors say.
At October's federal hearing, Smith will be read the charges against her and allowed to enter a plea, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday, who was assigned to the case by U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles.
Judge Carr will set Smith's bond, Holliday said.
"This initial appearance is a very low-key proceeding," Holliday said. "It's a lot of pro forma-type stuff, but it is the first time she will appear in federal court" on the charge.The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The money was diverted from a Clerk's Office bank account to the Drug Court between January 2006 and June 2009, according to a federal indictment.
Manning Smith was removed from his judge post by S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal in August 2009. Toal has not stated a reason for his dismissal.
Elizabeth Smith declined to comment Thursday.
Mike Macloskie of Beaufort, who represented Smith during her one-day trial for embezzlement and misconduct in office, will not do so in the federal case, he said Thursday."I just felt that it was in her best interest to get someone else," said Macloskie, who said he told Smith of his decision Thursday. "Who that is or is going to be, I don't know. I have been dealing with the U.S. Attorney's Office for months on this thing. Did I anticipate an indictment? Yes. Did I think it was going to come a day after the trial? No."
Beaufort attorney Bruce Marshall,who assisted Macloskie this week in defending Smith, also said he had no plans to represent the former clerk in federal court.
According to federal tax documents, Marshall also was a board member of Beaufort County Problem Solving Courts Inc., the nonprofit group under which the Drug Court operated.
Elizabeth Smith was the registered agent for the group, according to those documents.
Smith's own law career appears to be finished after Tuesday's conviction and Wednesday's indictment.
A member of the state bar since 1995, she had her law license suspended indefinitely by the S.C. Supreme Court in July 2009 following the state indictments.
That order has yet to be lifted, and Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith of Lancaster told Smith during sentencing Tuesday that it is "a virtual certainty" that she will be permanently disbarred.
"As a lawyer, you, more than anyone, ought to know that you don't fool with other people's money," said Goldsmith, who was appointed by Toal to hear Smith's case.
Attempts Thursday to reach officials from the Commission on Lawyer Conduct, an arm of the S.C. Judicial Department that investigates complaints against lawyers, were unsuccessful.