Beaufort News

Ex-court clerk appears in federal court

Former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith pleaded not guilty Wednesday to diverting $338,500 in federal child-support enforcement funds, partly to pay the salary of her husband who was a Drug Court judge.

Smith, 47, entered the plea in Charleston before Federal Magistrate Judge Robert Carr after being charged Sept. 22 by the U.S. Attorney's Office with one count of unlawful conversion of public funds.

Smith was read the charges against her, entered her plea and was released by Carr on her own recognizance after the five-minute arraignment hearing, according to U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday, who is prosecuting the case.

"The hearing is exactly what it is like for every defendant that comes through here," Holliday said.

Smith could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Smith's attorney, Lionel Lofton of Charleston, said he is still formulating the former clerk's defense.

"We've filed our motion for discovery ... and once we see what evidence the government has, we'll plan accordingly," Lofton said Wednesday.

A trial date has not been set.Smith was charged with writing at least five unauthorized checks worth a total of $338,500 from federal child-support enforcement funds between January 2006 and June 2009. 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, according to federal court records.

If convicted, she faces a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in federal prison. Manning Smith was removed from his post by S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal for undisclosed reasons in August 2009.

The federal indictment against Elizabeth Smith was announced the day after she was convicted in state court of embezzlement of public funds and misconduct office. A Beaufort County jury found Smith guilty of writing checks worth $23,500 from public accounts to help pay for insurance premiums for relatives and a vacation home on Pawleys Island.

Smith was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service. She is serving her sentence in Florence, where she lives with her husband.