Law Firm: Horvitz & Levy
Practice Area: Appellate law
Years in Practice: 19
Law School: UCLA School of Law
M.C. Sungaila said she could quit practicing law today and still feel like she had a satisfying career because of a groundbreaking ruling she won in December from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Costa Rica-based court held Mexican authorities responsible for failing to properly investigate the disappearance of hundreds of women from Ciudad Juarez. Many women’s bodies were later found with evidence they had been tortured and beaten. Mexico was ordered to pay money to the families of the dead women and fully investigate the brutal murders in a city known for drug warfare. The ruling is also important for the infl uence it will have on other international human rights groups, she said. In addition to her pro bono work on behalf of women’s rights, Sungaila keeps a busy toxic tort defense practice. In the past year, she has scored appellate victories that will be benefi cial to other companies going forward. Her amicus briefs on behalf of business interests helped convince the California Supreme Court to adopt the “sophisticated user” defense. She’s also been instrumental in establishing the standards for admitting expert testimony, winning a ruling in a toxic mold case.
Pretrial Ritual: A normal briefcase is never big enough to fi t all the records and briefs needed for oral argument, so Sungaila got into the habit of borrowing a colleague’s carrier she called the “lucky litigation bag.” Eventually, Sungaila broke down and purchased her own lucky bag.
Biggest Career Break: Before Sungaila began specializing in appellate work, the Southern Poverty Law Center asked her to write an amicus letter urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review a criminal civil rights conviction against a small town judge that had been overturned by a lower court. She had six days. The court ended up granting certiorari and reinstating the conviction. Her fi rst attempt at taking the lead on an appellate brief prompted her to make appellate work her primary focus. “I look at it now and it still holds up,” she said of her early pro bono writings.