Steve and Simon Malm, San Joaquin College of Law. Photo by Carlyn Robbins.

Grass Roots Profile: Meet Steve Malm

These profiles are intended to give recognition to some of the individuals who make important contributions to our progressive community and to illustrate the numerous forms their service can take. This month there is an additional purpose: to congratulate Steve Malm for completing the daunting task of becoming a lawyer in mid-life. On December 1, 2010, Steve was sworn in as a member of the California State Bar at an impressive ceremony at Fresno City Hall. Well done, Steve!

Steve Malm arrived in Fresno about 15 years ago, looking for a fresh start—except for one important reminder of his past, a young son Simon. In the intervening years, Steve has successfully acquitted the ever-challenging role of single parent, encouraging Simon through high school and into young adulthood, with a social consciousness to boot. At the same time, Steve earned his credential from the paralegal program at Fresno City College (FCC), completed his legal training at San Joaquin College of Law and passed his bar exam on the first go, as many do not. Meanwhile, he has held law-related jobs with several individual firms and has volunteered his services, legal and otherwise (that is to say, not always utilizing his expertise in law), with various progressive groups.

Steve says his commitment to law, and specifically to human rights law, has had two main sources. One is his conclusion, reached in early adulthood, that “law represents humankind’s best efforts at the truth.” The second is his endeavor to live a life of purposeful service, driven conjointly by early life experiences with injustice, by the desire to make atonement for youthful mistakes, and by the guidance of Buddhist practices he has studied.

Since determining his direction, he has pursued his goal intently but not without obstacles. It took several years after finishing at FCC before he had the wherewithal to enter law school, a time of trying to hold his household together without giving up on his decided course. He sought out law firms to work with where at least some of the work involved protecting the rights of the poor and the underserved, such as family cases seeking the best custody arrangement or protection against domestic violence. Then, during his five years in law school, Steve continued work with agencies such as Central California Legal Services (CCLS) and the Fresno branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), helping to draft letters and formal documents concerning important litigation.

Cases he has worked on include exposing labor theft by contractors from uneducated and undocumented laborers, seeking confidentiality rights for Medi-Cal recipients of psychiatric service and redressing the grievances of homeless people against the use of force and seizure of property by the city of Fresno and the Fresno Police Department. Some of the suits he has assisted with have earned both local and national press coverage, and some have already been settled affirmatively. Steve is especially proud of his involvements with CCLS where, he observes, “I began as a client, later became a volunteer, and recently became a paid staff person working on the ‘theft of labor’ documentation.”

Steve is also a founding member of Peace Fresno, from back in the days of Vince Lavery and his TV show “The Right Stuff from the Left,” an honorary board member of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, and a consultant for both the Community Alliance and Healing Hope (a counseling service for Southeast Asian refugees) in their preparation of paperwork for nonprofit status. Since graduation, Steve has worked in the office of Peter Singh, in the practice of immigration law. And he aspires to a time when he may have his own practice doing civil rights law and appellate work.

In addition to the rocky road to lawyerdom and the challenges of parenthood, Steve has had to cope with medical problems requiring extensive treatment. This has been quite a row to hoe—and at times I’ve seen Steve near wit’s end trying to deal with it all. So it is not surprising that he has gratitude for numerous people—in addition to his family—who have supported and guided him on his adventuresome journey. These include Doug Noll (“lawyer and peacemaker extraordinaire,” Steve says); Chris Schneider and Michael Kanz at CCLS; Deans Jan Pearson and Sally Penning at the law school; Maria Telesco and Angela Price of the Nonviolence Center (“They’ve learned to put up with me to get what’s good in me”); and Mark King, attorney and mentor.

Nor is it surprising that, as a motto, he sent me the following quote from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

IDENTITY BOX

Name: Steve Malm

Contact: SteveDM88@aol.com

Birthplace: Fresno

Ethnic identity: Celtic

Religious affiliation: Buddhist

Political affiliation: Progressive

Favorite hangout: The Revue

Inspiration: English professor Richard A. Wright (“He showed me that a man can feel compassion”); author/psychologist Erich Fromm

Nonpolitical interests: Tennis and jogging, Folklore Society

Unexpected pleasures: Watching boxing, writing poetry

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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