Columbia lawyer Byron Gipson on why he is running for 5th Circuit Solicitor’s post
A Midlands defense attorney said Sunday he will run in the June Democratic primary for the Fifth Circuit solicitor’s post now held by embattled prosecutor Dan Johnson.
Byron Gipson, 46, who lives in Columbia and practices with the law firm Johnson Toal & Battiste, said, “I am filing. The only question is whether it is Monday or Tuesday.”
In a brief interview, Gipson said he has “multiple reasons” for running for prosecutor, which pays $141,300 a year. Gipson said his goals include “restoring integrity” to the office, being a more visible prosecutor, prosecuting cases “fairly and justly,” and having quality programs to handle lesser offenders.
“We’ve got to be visible,” Gipson said. “If I’m going to be solicitor, I need to be in that courtroom. I need to be in the trenches and let the citizens know how important it is that we prosecute the most violent folks.”
The Fifth Circuit solicitor, one of 16 elected solicitors in South Carolina, oversees prosecutors who try cases in Richland and Kershaw counties. Solicitors largely are responsible for how smoothly criminal courts run in their jurisdiction. They also manage various court-related programs, including pre-trial interventions, and non-jail programs for drug and other non-violent offenders.
Gipson graduated from Dreher High School, College of Charleston and University of South Carolina School of Law. His legal experience is primarily as a defense attorney. He said he has had cases in 36 out of the state’s 46 counties.
Former U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles praised Gipson. “He’ll make a terrific solicitor, based on his character, wide trial experience and the way he’s lived his life — involved in his church, and family and legal groups. What he brings to the job that few solicitors have is that he has had clients and tried cases.”
Gipson said he tried but could not reach incumbent solicitor Dan Johnson, also a Democrat, to let him know his plans.
Johnson, who has been solicitor for eight years, has said he will seek a third term in office this year.
However, as of Friday, Johnson had not filed with the State Election Commission to run for re-election and paid the $5,650 filing fee. Earlier this month, Johnson held a fundraiser and raised thousands of dollars, most coming from lawyers who practice law in Kershaw and Richland counties.
The filing deadline is noon Friday. The Democratic primary is in June, and the general election is in November.
In recent weeks, Johnson has been buffeted by disclosures about his office’s spending. Johnson normally keeps a low profile. The Citadel and USC law school grad does not try cases and often is out of the solicitor’s office, traveling the country and world.
News accounts of Johnson’s spending have triggered a joint FBI-State Law Enforcement Division investigation. Agents have started interviewing Johnson’s staff, sources familiar with the investigation have told The State.
Questions were raised about Johnson’s spending after a watchdog nonprofit, Public Access to Public Records, began publishing documents covering his seven years in office.
The nonprofit, known as PAPR, obtained some 40,000 pages of documents. Thus far, it has released about 20,000 records, including check registers, photocopies of checks, credit card statements, and numerous receipts from stores, Uber and other businesses.
The documents show Johnson has spent tens of thousands of dollars in public money traveling to others states as well as countries in Latin America, Europe and Southwest Asia. The records also show he has visited casino complexes and often used Uber’s pricey limousine service.
Johnson, who ran unopposed for re-election in 2014, did not respond to a request for comment Sunday on his primary race.