Beaufort News

Ex-clerk of court employee settles suit against Beaufort County

A former Beaufort County Clerk of Court employee who says she was wrongly fired by ex-clerk Elizabeth Smith has settled her wrongful-termination lawsuit against the county.

Janice Young said she signed an agreement in January, in which she was given $40,000 and allowed to retroactively resign her position as deputy clerk of court.

In exchange, she promised not to sue the county, Smith, county administrator Gary Kubic, or current Clerk of Court Jeri Ann Roseneau, she said.

"The dispute is resolved, and I'm looking forward, not backward," Young said in an e-mail.

Young also agreed not to apply for a job within the clerk's office as long as Roseneau is in office, Young said.

County attorney Lad Howell was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Young claimed in her lawsuit, filed in November 2009, that Smith fired her in July of that year because Young cooperated with an S.C. Ethics Commission investigation into Smith's use of public funds. The state inquiry revealed Smith used $23,500 from the office's accounts to pay for insurance premiums and a vacation home on Pawleys Island.

Young and Smith had been close friends and business partners outside of their jobs in the clerk's office. They sewed elaborate vestments and other religious garments for area clergy.

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 did nothing to stop it, an allegation an attorney for the county denied in a subsequent response.

Young appealed her termination to a county grievance board, which recommended in September 2009 that Young be reinstated. However, Roseneau, the new clerk of court, chose not to rehire her. Roseneau can accept or reject a recommendation by the grievance committee, according to the county's employee handbook.

The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice in May by Circuit Court Judge Edward Cottingham of Bennettsville, leaving Young free to re-file the suit once misconduct in office and embezzlement charges against Smith were adjudicated.

Smith was convicted of those charges at the conclusion of a one-day trial in September and was sentenced to five years' probation and 200 hours of community service.

Before Young could re-file the lawsuit, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Smith with conversion of public funds for using federal child support enforcement money to pay the salary of her husband, Manning Smith, who then oversaw the Beaufort County Drug Court, and to pay other court costs.

Smith pleaded guilty to that charge earlier this month, according to court records.

If a federal judge accepts the plea agreement, Smith will be sentenced this summer, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Young's lawsuit had not yet been re-filed when she settled with the county, according to court records.