Several hundred well-wishers jammed a Richland County courtroom Wednesday to see Columbia attorney Byron Gipson sworn in as the new 5th Circuit solicitor for Richland and Kershaw counties.
Gipson was sworn in by veteran Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning. Manning wiped away tears as he told the crowd that, years ago, he had hired Gipson, then just out of law school, to be his law clerk.
In his remarks, Gipson said he was standing “on the shoulders of giants,” including the late civil rights lawyers Matthew Perry and Ernest Finney — the state’s first African-American federal judge and the first African-American chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court, respectively.
Gipson said he would seek buy-in from all segments of the community to bring justice for all, whether that means putting defendants on trial or getting them into diversion programs.
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“It requires all of us working together,” Gipson said. “If people are breaking the law, they need to be brought to justice.”
Among those attending the swearing in were: S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson; Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin; Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Boan; Columbia police chief Skip Holbrook; State Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel; and U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon.
The solicitor, who has a staff of roughly 140 and an $8 million-a-year budget, oversees nearly all criminal proceedings and diversion programs in Richland and Kershaw counties.
South Carolina has 16 elected solicitors, each paid about $140,000 a year.
A year ago, Gipson’s predecessor, Dan Johnson, was favored to win a third, four-year term as 5th District solicitor.
But last February, the Columbia-based open government foundation Public Access to Public Records published thousands of records detailing Johnson’s questionable spending of millions of taxpayer dollars.
After the FBI and State Law Enforcement Division opened corruption investigations, Gipson defeated Johnson in the June Democratic primary and, subsequently, won the November general election. Meanwhile, Johnson was indicted on state and federal corruption charges.
State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, the Columbia Democrat whose foundation released Johnson’s spending records as solicitor, watched Wednesday as Gipson was sworn in.
“Gipson has the character, integrity, maturity and foresight to do the job correctly,” said Harpootlian, a former solicitor. “We’ve been missing that for the last eight years.”