Almost 25 years after graduating from the Athens Academy, alumnus Peter Leary was named acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, which includes Oconee and 69 other counties and cities, including Athens, Macon, Columbus, Albany, and Valdosta.
His office is responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the district, including terrorism, public corruption, child exploitation, fraud, firearms, illegal gangs, and narcotics. The office also defends the United States on civil matters and collects debt to the federal government.
After growing up in Watkinsville and graduating from high school in 1996, he earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Virginia, where he was a Jefferson Fellow. After studying law, he worked as a clerk for the Hugh Lawson District Court judge in the Middle District of Georgia.
After his legal clerkship, he joined the DOJ’s Federal Programs Department through his Honors program, where he worked intensively with the intelligence community. Since 2012 he has worked as a public prosecutor for the citizens of the Middle District.
Since joining the US Attorney’s Office, he has served as the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Board coordinator, the computer hacking and intellectual property attorney, and the first US assistant attorney.
Leary also serves as an additional faculty at Mercer University, teaching criminal justice. Long before he was a prosecutor and professor, he actually helped The Oconee Enterprise engage in sports during his senior year at school.
“I went up [Sports Editor] Eric [Schmidt] at a game and asked why there is more coverage of Oconee County than Athens Academy sports, ”Leary said. “I said, ‘How about if I write sports for you and you have an extra person?”
In his short stint at the newspaper, then-teen Leary managed to land at least one great story. He reported on the soccer tournaments at Sanford Stadium as part of the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Growing up, Leary viewed retired Sheriff Scott Berry as an important inspiration for his own career in the criminal justice system. Berry’s appearance on a high school career day stayed particularly with Leary.
“He was one of my favorite speakers because he was passionate about his job,” said Leary. “I was very impressed by how he can serve his community …[and] He loved serving his church every day. “
The prosecutor has worked on a number of cases alongside Berry and other Oconee police officers and “thinks of the world” of the recently retired sheriff.
In fact, what Leary enjoys most of his job is working with other men and women in law enforcement.
“They work extremely long hours and it is very hard work … especially in cases where we have been victims of crime and are able to achieve some level of justice for the victims,” he said.
Leary advised students to consider pursuing a similar career path in order to speak to as many people in law enforcement as possible, especially for their primary areas of interest, as each area is different.
“If they can get an internship, so much the better,” he said. “A number of students have interned with prosecutors or defense lawyers … and I think this is invaluable in figuring out what career path you want to be on.”
He also pushed for the crucial elements of hard work and relationship building with people, even if one is across the courtroom.
Although his job has taken him to the country’s capital in recent years, Leary still considers the Middle Georgia region to be home.
“This is where I grew up and my wife and I raise our children,” Leary said, “and I want to do my part to make it safe for everyone.”