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How a judge fights for truth, justice and pop culture

Steve Chu is a self-described geeky fan. But he is also San Diego’s first Asian American Federal Magistrate. And for the four days of Comic-Con his two identities intersect.

Not every judge has an Autobot Matrix of Leadership to consult in his chambers.

"That's passed down from Autobot leader to Autobot leader," Steve Chu explained about his "Transformer" collectible toy. "And it contains the accumulated wisdom of the Autobot ancients. So I figured I could use some help when I'm making my decisions as a judge."


But then Chu is not your typical judge.

"I think a judge's chambers ends up being a reflection of who they are," Chu said pointing to the toys surrounding him. "And a big part of who I am are these properties that I love."

Properties such as "Transformers," "G.I. Joe," "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" inspire Chu.

"Captain Picard is the epitome of a Starfleet captain," Chu said. "Dignity, command, fairness and also justice."

But Chu has not always been a judge. When he was working as a lawyer he often heard the refrain of “win at all costs.” Then he became an assistant U.S. Attorney.

Steve Chu sitting in his chambers and surrounded by by pop culture passions.
Carlos Castillo
Steve Chu sitting in his chambers and surrounded by his pop culture passions. Undated image.

"We were taught to do three things in every case," Chu explained. "Do the right thing for the right reason, in the right way."

That sounds a little bit like Superman’s old mantra of fighting for "truth, justice, and the American way."

Chu actually takes a lot of inspiration from superheroes and pop culture. Comics and law books take up equal space in Chu’s chambers, reflecting his dual passions. He goes to a shelf and pulls out a Daredevil comic.

Steve Chu as San Diego's first Asian American U.S. Federal Magistrate. June 30, 2023
Stev Chu
Steve Chu, San Diego's first Asian American U.S. Federal Magistrate, is seen in this image taken June 30, 2023

"He's an attorney as well," Chu said. "A blind attorney. He became an attorney to fight the bullies, because he was bullied a lot growing up and believed in the rules of law, and he wanted to fight for justice. I never liked bullies, and I wanted to stand up to bullies. And the law — through exercising the rules, enforcing the rules — is, I believe, a way to do that."

Chu will now be enforcing the law from a new vantage point. He was recently sworn in as a U.S. Federal Magistrate. He is the first Asian American in that position in San Diego.

"People are supposed to be equal under the law," Chu explained. "And the law applies equally to everyone. And that often is the role of the judge to make sure that it is fair and it's a level playing field."

Chu’s dual identity as a respected judge and a pop culture nerd led him to join the Legal Geeks, a group of real attorneys and judges with a passion for films, comics and science fiction.

"I view it as our mission to educate people about the law and to make it fun and accessible," Chu said. "So we do these mock trials, these pretend trials. We did a 'Star Wars' court martial about Poe Dameron."

Josh Gilliland and Steve Chu (far left) at the Legal Geeks WonderCon panel. March 25, 2023.
Beth Accomando
Josh Gilliland and Steve Chu (far left) at the Legal Geeks WonderCon panel. March 25, 2023.

At the trial Chu argued: "We do not deny Captain Dameron's actions. We've shown you why he did what he did. We therefore ask that you find Captain Dameron not guilty for disobeying orders, not guilty for mutiny, and not guilty for conduct of becoming an officer."

"We try to make it as realistic as we can with real rules, following some rules of evidence and how a trial would actually happen," he said.

The hope is it will get people to think about the law.

"We want people to care and to get interested in the law," Chu stated. "We've had people tell us, 'You guys are the reason I'm going to law school.'"

This year Chu will be on a Comic-Con panel Thursday night addressing the legal issues raised in the Indiana Jones movies. Issues such as: Can Indy actually keep the items he's finding in all these places under this fictional Treaty for the Protection of Antiquities?

Comic-Con 2018: The Legal Geeks

The Legal Geeks will also raise questions about the government classifying the Lost Ark of the Covenant as top secret.

"What is the government's authority to classify these items?" Chu pondered. "What right does the public have to learn about these through mechanisms like the Freedom of Information Act or any other mechanism? Should the public have access to the Ark of the Covenant?"

Chu approaches the mock trials with the same diligence as a real one.

"I'm drafting out my arguments. I'm writing outlines. I'm meeting with witnesses. I'm prepping them," he said.

Chu’s dedication to the law — whether in a mock trial or a real courtroom — is impressive. And when he suits up in his black cape, I mean judge’s robes, he seems every bit a superhero trying to protect the ideals of the legal system. I just feel better knowing he’s out there.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Lawsuit 

7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Grand 12 & 13, Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina

"You throw me the idol, I throw you the whip” is the beginning of a legal analysis of Dr. Indiana Jones. Did Indy and Marion Ravenwood have a valid partnership agreement to find the Ark of the Covenant? Did Satipo breach his fiduciary duty to Indiana at the Temple of the Chachapoyan Warriors? Does the insanity defense apply to anyone who drank the Blood of Kali? And if the U.S. government classifies the Ark of the Covenant as Top Secret, what is necessary to declassify it for a FOIA request? Organized by The Legal Geeks.

Follow along for the latest stories, videos and updates on all things San Diego Comic-Con.

I cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.
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