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.