On March 22, 2022, the U.S. Senate confirmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Bermudez Montenegro as a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of California. Judge Montenegro fills the seat formerly held by Judge John A. Houston, who took senior status in February 2018.
Born in Brawley, California, Judge Montenegro received her B.A., summa cum laude, from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 1989 and her J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 1992. Judge Montenegro served as Graduate Student Association President while in law school.
Following graduation, Judge Montenegro began her legal career at Horton, Knox, Carter & Foote, LLP before serving as a deputy county counsel at the Office of County Counsel, Imperial County. In 2000, she became director of human resources and counsel for the Imperial Community College District. Taking a non-traditional route to the bench, Judge Montenegro worked as assistant superintendent for human resources/administrative services and counsel for the El Centro Elementary School District from 2002 to 2011. Judge Montenegro returned to the Office of County Counsel, Imperial County to serve as assistant county counsel from 2011 to 2012.
Judge Montenegro took the bench in 2012 when she was appointed to the Imperial County Superior Court. After serving as Imperial County Superior Court's Family Support Commissioner from 2013 to 2015, Judge Montenegro returned to the Imperial County Superior Court until 2018, when she became a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of California. Judge Montenegro had served as the sole magistrate judge in Imperial County since her appointment.
Judge Montenegro's service to the court and the Imperial Valley has been extensive. For the Southern District, Judge Montenegro serves on the CJA Committee, Magistrate Judge Court Committee, and the Strategic Committee on Resumption of Regular Court Proceedings. For the El Centro United States Courthouse, Judge Montenegro founded and chairs the Building Security Committee and the Social Committee.
Judge Montenegro is a tireless advocate for her community. She focuses on civics education and mentoring high school students and prospective law students from Imperial County. Judge Montenegro is a member of the California Civic Learning Partnership Committee and has developed and coordinated numerous court civics outreach programs with local schools. In 2017, she co-founded the Imperial County Superior Court Academy Summer Fellows Program, and the program has since expanded to include a federal court component. She is a former board member of the California Bar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to improve access to justice for the underserved and under-represented in California.
Judge Montenegro also currently serves as a board member and Immediate Past President of the El Centro Education Foundation, an organization she co-founded and incorporated in 1995. She is a former board member and president of MANA de Imperial Valley, an organization she incorporated that supports empowering Latinas through leadership, community service, and education. She is a former president of the Imperial County Bar Association, and she has also served as a board member of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, El Centro Rotary Club, and Imperial Valley College Foundation. Judge Montenegro has volunteered with the Imperial County Mock Trial program for more than twenty-five years and has also served as judge/keynote speaker for the Imperial County Migrant Education Program Student Speech and Debate Competition since its inception in 2010.
Judge Montenegro has been widely recognized for her service to the community. Most recently, Judge Montenegro received a 40th Senate District “Women of the Year” Award in 2020 and Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s “Distinguished Alumni” Award in 2020.