WHERE ARE THEY NOW? 1988 Menahga grad is renowned attorney
Steve Schleicher was part of the prosecution team in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Editor’s note: The Park Rapids Enterprise launched a new series of articles called “Where are they now?” to highlight the achievements of area high school graduates. While Park Rapids, Nevis, Menahga and Laporte may be small, northern Minnesota towns, they produce large talent. If you know of an alum from the area who has landed a unique or exceptional job, earned a prestigious award or performed an extraordinary task, contact editor Shannon Geisen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Schleicher grew up on a 280-acre dairy farm, graduating from Menahga High School in 1988, before entering the high-stakes world of criminal and civil litigation.
He’s attained a national and international reputation.
Most recently, he was a special prosecutor in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for his role in the murder of George Floyd.
Schleicher was one of four private attorneys selected to serve on a pro bono basis on that prosecution team, working alongside the Minnesota Attorney General's Office and the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
In 2016, he served as a prosecutor on the Jacob Wetterling case and was recognized as an Attorney of the Year by “Minnesota Lawyer” for his dedicated work.
Schleicher is currently a partner in Maslon Litigation Group, located in Minneapolis.
Surrounded by love
“I couldn’t possibly name them all,” Schleicher replied when asked who in his hometown has had the most influence.
“In terms of what I feel that I got out of my childhood, growing up in Menahga, is a community of people who all participated in shaping my life. Of course, my parents were huge supporters and I really owe everything to them,” he said.
Schleicher’s mother taught at Sebeka Elementary School for about 26 years. His father was a dairy farmer until about 1987.
Two sets of grandparents lived nearby as well – one in town and the other right next to the Schleicher’s family farm.
“So when I went to school, I always had someone keeping an eye on me there. My grandma was a cook at the school, so I saw her every day. My aunt, Judy Maninga, was my sixth grade teacher,” he recalled. “I grew up in an environment where I had someone who loved me around me all of the time. I always felt that.”
Caring teachers and coaches
“All of my teachers from very early on were just so very influential to me and so very, very good,” Schleicher continued. “I felt that I had a big advantage, coming from Menahga High School, because we really had a lot of talented teachers who took a real interest in the kids.”
A few stand out in his memory: Mrs. Schumaker and Mr. Nelson in fourth grade and Mrs. Paulson, the elementary librarian.
And especially, English high school teacher Jennifer Farnham. She was also speech coach at the time.
Participating in speech is where Schleicher decided that he wanted to become an attorney.
Schleicher said he thinks about Farnham’s devotion to the team, driving the school van to meets.
“She would have to meet us all at the school at like 6 o'clock in the morning, and get us rowdy, unappreciative kids loaded up on her Saturday and haul us to a speech meet in Perham or Park Rapids or Walker or wherever, and spend her entire day with us,” he recalled. “That made a huge difference in my life.”
Being raised in a small community has its advantages, Schleicher said.
“I tell people that in a small town, anything you want to try, you can try.” For instance, he was on the high school football team and in the band.
Students have ample opportunities to explore their interests, try to figure out who they are and what they might be good at, he said.
Schleicher remembers warming up to play football, then quickly running to the bleachers before the game started to play the National Anthem with the band.
Lessons on the farm and town
The Schleichers milked anywhere between 25 to 35 cows.
“You learn responsibility growing up on a farm. It’s not just because you work hard. It’s because you’re taking care of something. If you don’t take care of it, it suffers,” he said.
He participated in 4-H as well.
The Lutheran youth group was “a big part” of his life. Called the Luther League, it was an active group and a social outlet, he said.
After they stopped farming, Schleicher worked at Debbie’s Pizza & Diner in Menahga. It was owned by Debbie and Mike Sorenson.
Again, Schleicher said, they were caring adults who took an interest in kids.
He admitted he wasn’t at the top of his class. He made the “B” Honor Roll, but didn’t graduate with honors.
He stepped up his game when he entered higher education.
Worried that his small-town upbringing would hamper his success in college, Schleicher prioritized his studies.
“What I found was that my high school prepared me very well for college experience and law school.”
In 1992, he graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a criminology and political science degree.
He received his law degree in 1995 from William Mitchell College of Law.
He clerked for a judge in Winona County for a year, then spent four years as prosecutor in the Winona County Attorney’s Office.
He worked for the Minnesota Attorney General's Office for three years.
He also served 10 years as a Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
He spent 13 years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office, serving as Deputy Criminal Chief of the Special Prosecution Section (2014-2016) and as the St. Paul Branch Chief.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is getting to work on the Jacob Wetterling case, and being part of a team that helped bring some closure to that tragedy,” he said.
He left public practice to work for Maslon in 2017.
Pride in service
Today, Schleicher is a highly experienced trial and appellate lawyer, concentrating on criminal defense, government and internal investigations, and civil litigation.
Throughout his career, Schleicher has prosecuted a diverse variety of criminal cases, including homicide, criminal sexual conduct, armed robbery, assault and other violent crime; complex narcotics conspiracies; racketeering; organized crime; fraud; money laundering and civil rights violations.
Not everything Schleicher has done has garnered as much publicity as the televised trial of Chauvin, but he’s proud of the cases in his 22-year career, “helping victims of crime and speaking for them.”
Schleicher said the George Floyd case was “very important work, something that needed to happen and it needed to be done by someone who had worked with law enforcement as long as I had. … It’s a profession I admire and respect a lot.”
“When I saw what Derek Chauvin had done in his treatment of George Floyd, it was something I felt very strongly couldn’t stand,” he said.
At Maslon, Schleicher leads the firm's Investigations and White Collar Defense Group. His notable investigations include a security company holding a contract at a major NFL venue as well as a data security breach and IP theft conspiracy at a major automobile manufacturer.
As a business litigator, Schleicher served as liaison defense counsel for a leading corn seed developer in a consolidated action involving over 65,000 plaintiffs.
In addition, he represented a leading medical device manufacturer in product liability lawsuits in multiple state and federal courts across the country.
Schleicher says “we all have to take stock of everything we’ve been given” and “express that gratitude in some form of service.”
“It takes all of us to really pull together to create a society that works for everybody.”
He urges high school students to believe in themselves.
“They’re in just as a good position as anyone else to do what they want to accomplish,” he said. “They should not feel intimidated because they grew up in a rural area or went to a small school in any way.”