Terrell graduated from Gardena High School of Harbor Gateway, Los Angeles in 1972 and California State University, Dominguez Hills in 1977 with a BA and taught high school history, geography, and economics. He holds a master's degree in education from Pepperdine University and holds a law degree from the UCLA School of Law.
With former Los Angeles Superior Court judge Burton Katz, Terrell co-hosted the weekday talk show Terrell & Katz that debuted on June 3, 1996 on KMPC radio in Los Angeles. Terrell & Katz was a point-counterpoint program with Terrell as the liberal voice and Katz the conservative. Starting October 5, 1996, Terrell and Katz moved to weekends on KABC. Terrell continued to host a weekend legal show on KABC until August 15, 2010 and continues to be a recurring guest host for KABC's The Peter Tilden Show.
He was the Chairman of the Black-Korean Alliance, an Advisory Board Member for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and a member of the Statewide Commission Against Hate Crimes. Terrell wrote the book Your Rights at the Workplace--The Things Your Boss Won't Tell You in 1998.
Terrell became a member of the NAACP in 1990 and did pro bono legal work for the organization. After Terrell expressed support for Carolyn Kuhl, a judge nominated by President George W. Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit whose nomination was filibustered in the U.S. Senate, Terrell left the NAACP and accused the organization of "bullying" him out. NAACP Washington, D.C. office director Hilary O. Shelton responded: "He’s not an NAACP lawyer, not even a former NAACP lawyer. He’s done volunteer work for us, which we appreciate. But when he takes a position that is diametrically opposite from our position, he’s not speaking for us."
Terrell has provided legal and political commentary on TV and radio programs such as Nightline, Larry King Live, Hannity & Colmes, The O'Reilly Factor, Today, Good Morning America, and various radio programs. A family friend of O. J. Simpson, Terrell provided expert legal commentary about Simpson's civil trial.
In 1995, Terrell represented Kumasi Simmons, a former football player from Centennial High School in Compton expelled for hitting a referee. Simmons accused the referee of using racial epithets. Terrell accused the Beverly Hills Police Department of intimidating witnesses who could back up Simmons's claim.
In 1999, Terrell called on the Los Angeles police commission to hear witnesses who claimed that a homeless woman, Margaret Laverne Mitchell, was running when police officers shot her.
- California birth index search
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- Moore, Corey (January 10, 2012). "Civil rights attorney calls on LA County authorities to investigate officer misconduct". KPCC. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
- Terrell, Leo James (1998). Your Rights at the Workplace: The Things Your Boss Won't Tell You. Los Angeles, California: Leo Terrell Enterprises. ISBN 0966582802.