Justin Leef (J.D./M.P.A. ’17): Taking Initiative to Save Lives

“Do not strive to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, use your studies to make the most of yourself by finding what interests and motivates you. If you see a problem in our world that matters to you, tactfully take the initiative and work hard toward a solution.”

Justin Leef (J.D. ’17)

Justin Leef (J.D./M.P.A. ’17) recently learned of an alternative understanding of the Latin legal phrase sua sponte: “take the initiative.” His interpretation is that “if you see a problem that matters to you, tactfully take the initiative and work hard toward a solution.”

During his first year of law school, Leef did just that. He introduced a policy change in Georgia to prevent deaths like his friend Zack Elliott’s. Elliott was found dead in the backseat of a car; his friends were too afraid to call 911 or stop at a hospital when he overdosed on heroin. Leef got involved upon the urging of Elliott’s mother to help promote change.

2017 Commencement
And Hooding Ceremony

  • 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 12: Georgia State University Sports Arena, 125 Decatur St., Atlanta GA 30303

Leef helped draft and tirelessly lobbied for two complementary legislative measures: Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty Law and Georgia’s Naloxone Access Law.  The first sought to grant amnesty to victims of drug and alcohol overdose, as well as those who call for medical help. The second called for first responders to have access to and immunity from administering naloxone, a drug proven to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. Both measures became law as Leef watched Gov. Nathan Deal sign HB 965, April 24, 2014.

“Since its signing, HB 965 has saved more than 600 lives,” Leef said. “I framed the pen Gov. Deal used to sign it with the words, ‘For Zack.’”

Since the passage of HB 965, Leef hasn’t participated in regular General Assembly activity, but he still makes himself available to those who contact him when issues surrounding the opioid crisis emerge.

Leef decided to attend law school and pursue a master’s of public administration at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies after working at the General Assembly for two legislative sessions as an intern to the House Health and Human Services Committee and an aide to the Governmental Affairs Committee.

“I observed that whenever there was a problem, committee members looked to their lawyer peers, committee policy staffers and committee legislative counsel,” Leef said. “I realized that merely having a desire to effectuate beneficial policy was not going to be enough. I had to invest in myself through advanced education.”

While working on HB 965, Leef worked closely with many of Georgia’s top prosecutors and district attorneys, and he decided to apply to serve as a student prosecutor in the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office. Through that experience, he developed a tremendous amount of respect for prosecutors and law enforcement and took initiative, once again.

Leef examined the social and academic criticism of these public servants surrounding their handling of police involved shootings. He researched whether the criminal justice system in Georgia could be improved in that area and found that Georgia had already taken considerable steps towards transparency via bipartisan legislative reforms. So, he decided to assemble a panel addressing the topic and reforms with Georgia State Law students.

“The panel included chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the president of the Georgia Chiefs of Police Association, the director of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, and a leading civil attorney who represents families in the aftermath of an officer shooting,” Leef said. “I was extremely proud to see them come together for a positive, collaborative discussion. Georgia State Law must continue to be a neutral, respectful forum for meaningful discussion of ideas and policy in the future.”

After graduation, Leef will begin an apprenticeship in the Special Victim’s Unit of the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office. After passing the bar, he hopes to work as an assistant district attorney or assistant solicitor in Georgia.

“I aspire to become the best prosecutor and litigator that I can be. My grandfather was a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, so I suppose it’s in my DNA,” Leef said. “My subsequent career will likely involve public sector consulting and lobbying.”

Meet the Class of 2017

  • 2017 Commencement and Hooding Ceremony on May 12
    American Bar Association President Klein to Deliver 2017 Commencement Address
  • Team Namer (J.D. ’17): Siblings Team Up in Life and Law
  • Darlene Childers (J.D. ’17): Service & Leadership Hallmark of Experience
  • Justin Leef (J.D./M.P.A. ’17): Taking Initiative to Save Lives
  • Kianna Hawkins Chennault (J.D. ’17): Aspiring Criminal Litigator & New Mom
  • Alex Stone (J.D. ’17): Serving as a Voice For Those Who Cannot Speak
  • Amy BeMent (J.D. ’17): Moot Court Inspires Passion
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