Columbia lawyer says it's his "calling" to unseat embattled prosecutor

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Byron E. Gipson is a husband and a father. He's a graduate of Dreher High School, College of Charleston, and USC Law. He's worked at a prominent Columbia law firm for the past 20 years. But now, the 47-year-old is pursuing something new, something different, something he calls "a calling."

"I'm going to concentrate my efforts in a different way, and I'm going to give all that I have in terms of my work and professional abilities," he said.

Over the weekend, Gipson decided to run to become the next head prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw Counties. In his first TV interview since announcing, he said it's a decision he didn't make lightly.

"The decision-making process required a lot of prayer and thought, and finally, I guess, over the weekend, just decided I needed to step up. I couldn't sit idly by and watch the erosion of trust in our solicitor's office," Gipson said. "I've decided to run because I believe we've got to restore the integrity to the solicitor's office."

Right now, the office and current Solicitor Dan Johnson are bogged down in a quagmire of controversy. Thousands of documents that became public months ago seem to show questionable spending of public funds by Johnson and his staff on exotic trips, elaborate parties, and luxury items.

"They are allegations, but I'd say at a minimum, if these stories are true, there's some poor decisions that have been made," Gipson said.

Right now, SLED and the FBI are looking into those allegations, and because of that, Gipson says the office is becoming a punchline.

"Something has to be done here, and to that end, I reached out to Dan and gave him a call just to say, 'Hey, I'm interested in running for solicitor, and this is what I'm going to do, because I believe that whatever's out there has put us in a position where I think I need to step in and make some changes,'" said Gipson.

In the interview, Gipson made promises he says he'll fulfill if he's elected solicitor.

Number one: travel won't be "willy-nilly." Records show Johnson and his staff paid for trips across the globe for mostly unknown reasons.

"Travel would occur if it is something that needs to be done that can enhance our ability to prosecute cases and to handle matters in the Fifth Circuit," Gipson said.

Number two: he'll hire a financial advisor to manage public money better.

"If you're an elected official, there's a certain contract you sign with the public that you are going to be fiscally responsible in how you handle their monies," he said.

Finally, Gipson said he'll spend a lot of time in the courtrooms. Critics say they rarely see Johnson in court.

"The courtroom's not going to be a place that I just walk by to go to my office," Gipson said.

Gipson will officially file his election paperwork on Tuesday. At last check, even though he held a campaign fundraiser weeks ago, Solicitor Johnson has yet to file his paperwork to seek re-election. The deadline to file is Friday.

Both Johnson and his communications director have not returned phone calls for a comment or interview.

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