COLUMBIA — Fifth Circuit Democratic Solicitor Dan Johnson, the subject of an investigation over reports of lavish spending with office money, is getting a primary election foe.
Columbia attorney Byron Gipson said Sunday he plans to seek the Democratic nomination to become the chief prosecutor in Richland and Kershaw counties.
"I want to make sure this office stands for all that it should," he said.
Gipson, a 46-year-old graduate of the College of Charleston and University of South Carolina law school, said he has weighed running for solicitor since he started practicing law two decades ago. He declined to say directly that he's joining the race after news reports that Johnson's office spent money on gym and club memberships, out-of-town and foreign trips, pricey meals, a Super Bowl party and for a holiday party DJ who was Johnson's brother.
Questions about those expenses have led to a State Law Enforcement Division investigation and questions by the FBI. Johnson says he has done nothing wrong though he has not addressed the specific accusations, citing the state investigation.
"If those reports turn out to be true, there was some poor judgment that was used," Gipson said. "We have to stand above reproach in all we do."
Richland County court records show that since 2011 Gipson twice settled efforts to foreclose on his Columbia home in disputes with mortgage lenders. Gipson declined to discuss the reasons behind the fights that led to legal action. News of Gipson's solicitor bid was first reported by WIS-TV in Columbia.
Gipson would not criticize Johnson, whom he has known since law school and contributed $300 to his campaign in 2011. Gipson also has donated to the campaigns of other solicitors, including Scarlett Wilson, whose circuit includes Charleston, and David Pascoe, the special prosecutor in the Statehouse corruption probe.
Gipson said he is suited to become the capital city region's chief prosecutor since he handles mostly criminal cases in the Columbia and Orangeburg offices of Johnson, Toal & Battiste, where he has worked since 1997. He also chairs Columbia's Municipal Election Commission.
Johnson has said he is seeking a third four-year term in office, but he has not filed for the June 12 primary. The deadline is noon Friday. Johnson defeated two Democratic challengers in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2014.
Any Republican challenger, if one files, would be considered a long-shot for the 5th circuit solicitor's seat since Richland and Kershaw counties lean Democratic.