Better management offers Drug Court a brighter future

After getting derailed by the actions of former Beaufort County Clerk of Court Elizabeth Smith, it's good to see the county's drug court back on track and helping people.

The program puts nonviolent offenders into drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs instead of prison. That diversion frees up court resources, including reducing the number of drug cases in General Sessions Court.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the state and federal criminal charges filed against Smith in 2009 and 2010, it became apparent the Drug Court then did not have adequate supervision.

Smith pleaded guilty in March to federal charges that she had improperly used federal money to pay her husband, Manning Smith, while he oversaw the Drug Court between 2006 and 2009. She was convicted of separate state embezzlement charges in September 2010.

Despite the charges against Elizabeth Smith and Manning Smith's removal as Drug Court judge, the public still doesn't fully understand how we reached that point. The program's oversight at one time included a nonprofit group through which public money flowed. In hindsight, we can see local governments that helped fund it did so with inadequate review.

We also are still owed an explanation from S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal on why she removed Manning Smith as judge. We can guess, but her August 2010 order sheds no light.

Today, we've come full circle on the Drug Court. Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone took it in hand after the Smiths were removed. That's as it should be.

The Solicitor's Office, under the previous solicitor, got the court set up in 2000 with a federal grant and local tax dollars. The court had a director and was overseen by then-14th Circuit Family Court Judge Gerald Smoak. Toal appointed Manning Smith judge in 2001.

That was the situation when Stone became solicitor in 2006. But by 2009, he said he had stopped sending defendants to the program because of his concerns.

Michael Lee, a former Beaufort police captain, now is the program's administrator, and Smoak, who had retired, is its primary judge.

The three-phase program requires participants to attend drug or alcohol counseling, pass scheduled and random drug tests and get a job. Participants who don't comply can be sent to jail under their original sentence.

Stone says the program's budget was about $148,000 this year, which included state funding, $48,500 from Hilton Island and fees of $1,800 from each participant. About two dozen people are in the program and four have completed it.

Stone says the program is worth saving and makes a difference. We agree.

Now we expect to see the accountability that for too long was missing.