Who will be Palm Beach County’s next state attorney? Prosecutor, defense attorney file for top job

WEST PALM BEACH — A longtime defense attorney and a high-ranking prosecutor are vying to become Palm Beach County’s next state attorney, citing crimes against the elderly, the opioid epidemic and combatting gun violence among the challenges facing the next person to lead the office.

Defense attorney Gregg Lerman and Chief Assistant State Attorney Alexcia Cox formally announced their candidacies in June, just one day apart from each other. Both are seeking to succeed three-term incumbent Dave Aronberg, who announced that he will not run for a fourth term in 2024.

Lerman filed his paperwork to run in May, anticipating that Aronberg would not seek re-election. He has practiced criminal defense law for 38 years and was a candidate for Palm Beach County judge in 2016.

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Gregg Lerman announced his candidacy for Palm Beach County state attorney outside of the State Attorney's office in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla., on June 14, 2023.

“This office has done a great job representing Palm Beach County and prosecuting criminal cases,” he said during his June 14 news conference. “However, every government office can use some improvement and I hope to bring that improvement to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office.”

Cox declared her candidacy on June 15. She currently oversees prosecutors in the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office domestic-violence unit, the county courts and the conviction review unit. She is running for an elected office for the first time and is seeking to become the first woman and the first African American to hold the position of Palm Beach County’s top prosecutor.

Alexcia Cox

“This is my home county and I was raised and supported by the people in this community,” Cox said in a telephone interview with The Palm Beach Post. “I’ve worked at the State Attorney’s Office for 16 years. … I care about that office. I care about the people who get up out of their beds every day and walk through those doors to work there and seek justice for the community.”

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Both have filed as Democrats, meaning the election would be decided in the August 2024 primary unless a challenger from a different party or an independent candidate files. Otherwise, the winner of the primary would advance to the general election that following November.

Others have been mentioned as having an interest in running for the office, but to date no other candidates had announced as of July 5. The filing deadline is April 2024.

In announcing their respective candidacies, Lerman and Cox each listed prosecuting crimes against the elderly as a top priority if elected.  

“Time and again, I hear from senior citizens of this county that they are defrauded, and nothing is being done about it,” Lerman said.

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“In the nursing home industry, quite honestly, it’s running rampant where people have their property and money taken away from them by (employees) of nursing homes, and that has to be dealt with. It has to be investigated and it’s not” he said.  

Cox said she wants to create an elder-abuse task force, with at least one prosecutor overseeing cases involving crimes against the elderly. She said many victims of elder abuse have expressed reluctance to press charges, feeling they have no choice but to stay with their abusers.  

“I want to make sure that we know all of the resources that are available to, not just prosecute the elder-abuse crimes, but also make sure one we do that, we can give them the resources that they need to continue on living in our society,” she said.  

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg arrives at courtroom 10B prior to the start of a pre-trial hearing in the case of the Wellington 'clown murder' at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Friday, October 21, 2022, in downtown West Palm Beach, FL.

While Cox has not held or sought elected office before, she cited her experience leading various divisions of the State Attorney’s Office.

She said other priorities if elected would include expanding the office’s special-victims and domestic-violence units, ramping up recruitment efforts for new prosecutors and establishing regional community advisory boards.  

“Each part of our county has different needs and different concerns, and they may have different expectations from our office,” she said.

“The safety concerns in Wellington are not the safety concerns maybe in Riviera Beach or out in the Glades, and I want to hear from the people, the stakeholders as well as people in our business community, to know what they need, what they’re seeing and how crime is impacting them.”

Only one of the two candidates has sought elected office before

Lerman cited the opioid epidemic and gun violence as issues he wants to address as the next state attorney.  

“I am running because there are issues that need to be dealt with in this county,” he said. “There are issues with the drug problem, with fentanyl, that need to be prosecuted. Crimes of violence, gun violence, need to be dealt with in a better way in this county.” 

Lerman was narrowly defeated in his 2016 run for county judge, losing by 2 percentage points to probate and guardianship attorney Dana Santino.

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However, the Florida Supreme Court removed Santino from the bench after just 18 months, making her the first judge in county history to face such a sanction. In rendering its decision, the court ruled that Santino engaged in misconduct during her campaign against Lerman as she attacked his work as a criminal defense attorney.

Santino was replaced by Paige Kilbane (formerly Paige Hardy Gillman), who was later appointed to the circuit bench. She resigned in December to join the Fifth District Court of Appeal in northeastern Florida.

Julius Whigham II is a criminal justice and public safety reporter for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him atjwhigham@pbpost.com and follow him on Twitter at@JuliusWhigham. Help support our work:Subscribe today. 

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