By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
One doesn't have to know a thing about automobile collision claims, or what a plaintiffs' lawyer actually does, to have gathered the impression that Loncar is one tough suit.
Take his current TV commercial, which aired on a recent weekday morning during The Price is Right, at a time of day when potential clients are supposedly at home, unable to make it in to work.
As it begins, Loncar is perched atop a World War II-era M3A1 tank. He is dressed in a regulation gray suit, white shirt, and conservative print tie, but cradles a set of old-fashioned gunner's goggles and a helmet in his left arm. "If a careless driver pulls out in front of you, that can cause an accident--unless you drive one of these," Loncar says, a wry smile blossoming on his lips.
You can guess what's coming next.
The tank's turret swivels. The gun lowers, taking bead on a rusty little economy car parked a few yards away. Then, KA-BLAAAM! Car doors fly. Glass sails. The pathetic junker is consumed in a sphere of smoke and fire.
As the wreckage settles, Loncar faces the camera and vows, "If you're in a car wreck, you may have medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering. Call me now. I'll fight for you."
The idea being conveyed, of course, is that Loncar is a genial, droll sort who nevertheless can become blitzkrieg-tough when he muscles up to the insurance companies on behalf of his clients.
So much for cheesy advertising reflecting life.
In the real world, Dallas' prince of the legal pitch is the reverse of this on-air persona, according to several of his former employees. At times abusive and downright vindictive toward those in his immediate circle, he can be utterly indifferent to the hundreds of clients whose cases are processed, like grist in a lucrative mill, by adjusters and para-legals in his downtown Dallas office, former employees say, including his top courtroom lawyer.
Over the past two years, three former employees have sued Loncar in Dallas civil courts, two alleging sexual harassment and one defamation. At least one other former employee is contemplating suing him as well.
Papers filed in those cases are peppered with allegations that Loncar's ethical standards resemble those of a gypsy carnival. Among the most serious are claims that Loncar spends settlement money held in a client trust account on personal and business expenses, and allows non-lawyer employees to practice law by having them settle claims without a lawyer's supervision, which violates professional ethics.
The Dallas Observer has learned that the State Bar of Texas has launched an investigation of Loncar, spurred by a former employee's complaint. If ethical violations are proven, Loncar could face sanctions ranging from a reprimand to disbarment.
If the 36-year-old legal lightning rod wasn't in enough of a storm, a Collin County judge ordered him last month to pay $58,900 in legal fees and court costs to his second wife, whom he threatened to "bury" in a scorched-earth custody battle over their three-year-old daughter. But Loncar's conflict with his ex-wife, Mary Loncar, is getting to be old news. It landed him a spot in the national column "News of the Weird" in 1994, when Mary accused him of bigamy, filed a criminal complaint, and watched as a Dallas County grand jury indicted him on the charge. Loncar's attorney defended him by claiming that the wedding to his third wife, Sue Loncar, was "a phony deal" because it was performed by an Elvis impersonator at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.
True to his habit of thumbing his nose at Dallas' legal establishment, Loncar maintained his high profile in the media even after the bigamy indictment, which was subsequently dropped for lack of jurisdiction.
Lately, though, with litigation against him multiplying, he has preferred sticking it out in his big green tank. Loncar and his attorney declined to respond to repeated interview requests for this story, and he succeeded in persuading a judge to seal some unflattering court records this fall--many of which the Observer obtained though other sources. Meanwhile, Loncar has entered a settlement with one former employee that includes a confidentiality agreement, and is negotiating with the other.
Still, there are enough court records and people who know Loncar and his practice to stitch together a view of one Dallas' most visible personal injury lawyers. By all accounts, he is a shrewd businessman, pulling down as much as $1.3 million a year, most of it from handling auto accident claims. His practice is lucrative enough to afford him a Highland Park mansion a few doors down from oil heir Lamar Hunt.
In addition to "successful," though, people use words such as "narcissistic," "evil," and "not sane" to describe a man who they say has an ego the size of Texas.
"He's a great businessman," says William Shirer, a Dallas lawyer who worked for Loncar for two years. "But he's a lousy lawyer."