Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

Shortly after the confirmation of U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Lopez to be a U.S. District Court Judge, her colleague, Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro, looks poised to take the same step.

Background

A native Southern Californian, Montenegro was born Ruth Parra Bermudez in Brawley, Imperial County, in 1967. After graduating summa cum laude from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 1989, Montenegro received a J.D. from the University of California Los Angeles Law School in 1992 and started work at Horton, Knox, Carter & Foote LLP as an Associate.

After a brief stint at the Office of the County Counsel in Imperial and with the Imperial Community College District, Montenegro joined the El Centro Elementary School District as Assistant Superintendent and Counsel.

In 2012, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Montenegro to be a Superior Court Judge in Imperial County, but lost her election to maintain the position in 2012. After a stint as a Family Support Commissioner, Montenegro was elected to the bench in 2014. In 2018, Montenegro became a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, where she currently works.

History of the Seat

Montenegro has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on February 8, 2018, by Judge John Houston’s move to senior status.

On November 2, 2019, the Trump Administration nominated longtime criminal defense attorney Knut Johnson to fill this vacancy. Johnson, a Democrat recommended by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then Sen. Kamala Harris, never received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and his nomination was unconfirmed at the end of the Trump Administration.

For her part, Montenegro applied with California selection committees in January 2021 and subsequently interviewed with both of California’s senators. She was subsequently recommended to the White House for nomination by Senator Alex Padilla in July 2021 and was nominated on November 3, 2021.

Legal Experience

Montenegro started her legal career in El Centro, primarily working in civil litigation, including on employment, labor, and healthcare matters. Since 2000, Montenegro has worked either for the Office of the County Counsel, the Imperial Community College District, or the El Centro Elementary School District. In each position, Montenegro has worked in an in-house capacity, focusing on legal advice, training, and compliance. However, she has also advised her employers on litigation matters as well as representing the District in administrative procedures. For example, Montenegro defended against a lawsuit by seniors seeking to participate in the graduation ceremony (they were declined due to the failure to complete mandated service hours). See Brawley Union High School District, Imperial County Superior Court.

Jurisprudence

In 2012, and from 2015 to 2018, Montenegro served as a judge on the Imperior County Superior Court. In this role, Montenegro presided over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters, handling approximately 34 jury trials and 100 bench trials during her tenure. Among matters she handled here, Montenegro sentenced a prisoner to six years in prison for attacking an officer in a prison while he was attempting to restrain another inmate. See People v. Johnson, No JCF28994, 2016 WL 7030374 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 2, 2016).

Since 2018, Montenegro has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Southern District of California. In this role, Montenegro presides over pretrial, trial, grand jury and discovery matters. While she has not handled any jury or bench trials as a Magistrate, Montenegro did facilitate the settlement of a lawsuit alleging a pattern and practice of sexual harassment at the U.S. Postal Service. See Cano v. Brennan, No. 19-cv-239-CAB-RBM (S.D. Cal. June 2, 2021).

Overall Assessment

Coming to the bench with a largely in-house background, Montenegro would bring a unique perspective to the bench, if confirmed. As her home base of Imperial County lacks representation on a San Diego dominated bench, Montenegro could ostensibly claim to add geographic diversity to the bench as well.

15 Comments

  1. This is a rare case in which the Trump nominee, Knut Johnson that never received a vote might actually be more progressive then the Biden nominee. However with Montenegro being over a decade younger, a Latina & with some progressive background, as she worked as a federal defender, I can see why she was chosen versus Johnson.

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  2. Can anybody find where Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro spent eleven years at the Federal Defenders in San Diego as this article states? I looked on her SJC questionnaire as well as numerous articles on the internet & could not find one reference to her working as a federal defender. I was curious if this was a mistake written in this article.

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  3. As bad as New Jersey has been when it comes to federal district court judges this year, a bright spot from the state regarding the judiciary has been the state supreme court. Governor Murphy has done an outstanding job with his first two recommendations with at least two more to come now taht he has been re-elected during his second term.

    They need to do whatever it takes to get Rachel Wainer Apter confirmed. I can guarantee you if this was Texas or most red states, they would change the rules to confirm their 41-year-old nominee.

    (https://twitter.com/VettingRoom/status/1475964275239833608)

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      • Her or Fabiana Pierre-Louis would be fabulous. Thank God Phil Murphy got re-elected. He may be the best Democrat governor in the country at picking state Supreme Court justices. He will get at least 2 more in his next term. I know New Jersey rules state one will have to be a Republican (Unless they change that rule which I truly hope they do). I expect the Democrat he chooses to be another Rick star as his first two.

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      • @Dequan Murphy should just suggest to certain potential candidates to switch their registration to the GOP right now.

        If that’s not permitted, find a registered Republican who is pretty liberal and hasn’t actually voted for the GOP in years.

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      • I am not well versed in the law but I remember Chris Christie tried to circumvent it but eventually had to nominate a Democrat (I believe to Chief Justice). So that leads me to believe there is some provision making it difficult to get around.

        Honestly they just need to either ease the law or erase it all together. I’m sure there are more states but off the top of my head I can only think of New Jersey & Delaware that have the mandate of only a certain number of judges per party (And the court of international trade does too). So solid blue states are forced to nominate Republicans. Meanwhile red states can stack their highest courts with young conservatives until their heart is content.

        Laws like that as well as the California recall need to go. Democrats are not playing on an even playing field as it is. Those les only further tilt the courts towards Republicans.

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      • It appears that it is only “tradition” that governs the partisan balance for the Supreme Court. The reason why Christie had trouble getting his nominees through was a Dem Senate rejecting them, if he had a GOP Senate I think he could have circumvented it just fine.

        Gov. Murphy does not have that problem. Furthermore, one of the thorns he had to deal with in the Senate, Norcross machine politician Stephen Sweeney is gone after losing to a racist, sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic GOP candidate who barely ran a campaign. Sweeney took his reelection totally for granted and did zero opposition research into his hideous opponent.

        So Murphy can go in one of two ways. He can openly refuse to continue the tradition of partisan balance. Or he can appoint a bogus “Republican” to the traditionally GOP seat, perhaps someone who officially switches to the GOP just before being nominated. I see positives in both approaches.

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      • Ah, that sheds some light on the situation then. If it’s tradition, we have seen national Republicans completely disregard tradition so there is no reason a Democrat term limited governor in a blue state who has an absolute stellar record on judicial nominees should not respond in kind. I expect one young progressive & at worst one left of center nominee when the next two justices are mandated to retire in a couple years.

        I think Delaware is more of a solid written law. I still like my proposal for the court of international trade. Since there are two vacancies & one by statute has to be a Republican, I think Biden should nominate that lawyer senator Rubio has been trying to get nominated to a federal judgeship since Trump was in office. I can’t remember his name but it’s well documented he is the nephew of one of Rubio’s biggest donors. In return Rubio & Scott sign off on two nominees from Rep. Wasserman-Schultz list for the Southern District court.

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