Wednesday, November 29

Carey Haughwout, longtime Palm Beach County public defender, won’t seek reelection

Palm Beach County’s longest-tenured public defender is stepping down at the end of her current term.

Carey Haughwout announced Tuesday that she won’t seek reelection in 2024.

“It’s been an honor and privilege to serve those in Palm Beach County whose lives and liberty are at stake,” Haughwout said in a statement. “However, it’s time for new leadership to build upon the innovations that have occurred and further the mission of protecting the rights of the most vulnerable and the fairness and equity of a legal system that must continuously be held to the highest of standards.”

Haughwout will have served for 24 years when her term ends in January 2025. She has held the position since 2001.

First elected in 2000, the Democrat has served six terms and been challenged just once by West Palm Beach attorney Bill Abramson in 2016.

During her time in office, she has personally spearheaded the defense of some of Palm Beach County’s most notorious murder cases, including Paul Michael Merhige, who killed his twin sisters, his aunt and his cousin’s 6-year-old daughter on Thanksgiving in 2009, and Corey Johnson, a teenager who killed a 13-year-old boy and stabbed a woman and her son during a 2018 sleepover.

Most recently, she advocated on behalf of death row prisoner Duane Owen, seeking to spare him from a death sentence. The twice-convicted murderer raped and killed a 14-year-old babysitter and a 38-year-old mother in separate attacks in 1984.

Owen was executed in June. Haughwout, who represented Owen during his 1999 retrial, sat in the front row during his execution.

Haughwout graduated from Florida State University’s College of Law in 1983 and began her career as an associate at a Tallahassee trial firm. She eventually became an assistant public defender in Palm Beach County, handling everything from misdemeanors to capital cases.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg also announced earlier this year that he won’t seek a fourth term. Aronberg has served as Palm Beach County’s top prosecutor since 2013.

That means Palm Beach County voters will elect a new state attorney and public defender in 2024.

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