Mother knows best for Newport Beach lawyer and author M.C. Sungaila
Given the vast improvements in technology over the years, Mary-Christine Sungaila, a well-known appellate lawyer who lives in Newport Coast, no longer has to look in her mailbox every day for an inspirational quote from her mother Jane.
“It was ‘snail mail’ for many years,” said Sungaila, who goes by “M.C.”
“She would send them to the office, and they would say, ‘Mother’s thoughts for the day.’ And she would write some quote, or some positive thing. Along with this pile of business junk would come this really nice letter.”
Sungaila, a Corona del Mar High School graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree at Stanford and law degree at UCLA, kept many of those motivational missives when she was just starting out in her career.
Today, the words of encouragement now come in the form of a text message. But they always come. Every single day.
Her mother, now 80, texts her daughter from her longtime home in the Port Streets neighborhood of Newport Beach.
“I was looking at some of them, and I thought, ‘You know, somebody else could probably use these,’” Sungaila said. “She had some pretty good advice, so I started compiling some of them.”
At first her mother refused M.C.’s request to make the words of wisdom into a book. Sungaila, now 53, was persistent. She published the colorful gift book “Mother’s Thoughts for the Day: Twenty-Five Years of Wisdom” in 2019, and a second volume followed the next year. They are available at most major online book retailers.
Sungaila has also recently started selling merchandise with some of the sayings on the items and is preparing to release a companion journal to the books this spring, for those who want to drop jewels for their own family members.
“It really tracks what my mom was thinking … and it allows you to do that in a guided way,” she said. “For all of the people who said, ‘I could never do that,’ you can. Here’s a roadmap for how to do that for your child or grandchild.”
Sungaila has long made a name for herself as an appellate attorney, for her high-profile work in her field. Her first big case in 1996, fighting a Tennessee judge who was convicted of forcing sex on five women in his chambers and eventually fleeing the country, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. She has also worked on Holocaust art recovery cases and is currently representing the city of Costa Mesa in its battle to regulate sober living facilities.
In 2017, she was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her professional achievements, humanitarianism and pro bono work.
She spends much of her time writing long legal briefs, but Sungaila said she originally wanted to be a poet or a writer for a living.
“Having had that thought, I immediately had an image in my head of starving in a garret,” she said with a laugh. But she pursued the avocation to become a published author.
Jennifer Keller, a trial attorney friend of Sungaila’s, is not surprised.
“She’s very aware of her limited time on Earth and she wants to make a dent, which is admirable,” Keller said. “She also knows everybody and is the queen of the networkers. I would say she’s just a force for good in our profession.”
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said she will definitely be purchasing one of Sungaila’s companion journals when they go on sale. Foley — herself a lawyer — said she has known Sungaila since the 1990s, when she was starting out after graduating from law school.
While moving her law office last summer, Foley said she found a collection of articles about herself that Sungaila had clipped and sent to her, usually with a positive note attached.
“She inspired me to do that for others,” Foley said. “I did that with other women lawyers or women professionals that I knew … There’s so much more meaning when you receive a personal note, something hand-written. Taking time out of your day to think about someone else, it makes it all the more meaningful.”
Sungaila said the proceeds from her books go to benefit the Pacific Symphony’s arts education programs, as well as Orange County celebrity chef Bruno Serato and his nonprofit Caterina’s Club. She’s on the board for the Pacific Symphony, one of her several nonprofit boards.
She said she only planned to publish one volume of “Mother’s Thoughts,” but the response has overwhelmed her, especially during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“This is one of the only things in my life I’ve ever done just purely on instinct,” Sungaila said.
“This book needed to be done. It was going to help someone. I don’t know if it’s just one person, but it was going to be a positive thing and reinforce family relationships. It would also help new, young professional women who might not have that kind of encouragement to stay in the game.”
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