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Palpable friction

If the relationship between 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson and the media was strained before, we’re probably going to need a stronger word to describe it now.

Sidebar met Johnson only once, during the University of South Carolina’s first Media Law School in 2015. He was a guest speaker at the event, a 3 ½-day seminar intended to educate journalists who report on legal issues. The interaction between solicitor and media was awkward, to say the least. Contentious is probably more accurate.

Fast forward to more recent times, when Charleston’s Post & Courier just reported that state investigators are looking into Johnson’s spending habits after a local watchdog group obtained bank records suggesting some degree of recklessness with his office credit card, and possibly taxpayers’ money.

According to the article, the questionable credit card swipes include:

  • Hundreds of dollars for stays in luxury hotels from Miami to Ecuador
  • After-hours and wee hours Uber Black rides (typically nicer vehicles and higher fares than standard Uber) to destinations near nightclubs and restaurants
  • $7,700 for dues and meals at Columbia’s Capital City Club
  • A $6,000 office Christmas party
  • $623.53 at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Alexandria, Virginia
  • $236 for 25 pairs of gold cufflinks bearing the solicitor’s office seal
  • $197.93 at Ruth’s Chris in Columbia
  • At least $6,600 to hire Arizona’s DJ Phlava (who also happens to be Johnson’s brother) to DJ parties in Columbia

The Post & Courier wrote that it hoped to gain more insight into the spending, but that Johnson and his communications director stood up one of its reporters, who waited in Johnson’s office for three hours for a scheduled meeting. After Johnson’s no-show, The P&C posted its article online. The following day, Johnson emailed media outlets and denied, to his knowledge, any wrongdoing.

During the 2015 seminar, Johnson told reporters that he doesn’t typically speak with the media because he believes that reporters would rather write a good story than a true story. To a reporter, he said, getting the story first trumps getting it right.

Johnson did not return for USC’s second Media Law School and, going out on a limb here, this Sidebar reporter is willing to bet a steak dinner with all the trimmings that speaking to reporters has not risen on his list of favorite things to do.

Heath Hamacher

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