Fight or flight?

Denton man claims he's in jail because attorney Brian Loncar failed to show up in court

Dallas attorney Brian Loncar vows in his hard-to-miss TV commercials, "I'll fight for you." Of course, that presumes he'll show up when the judge calls your case, and not send some coffee-fetching flunky who doesn't know a pleading from a Post-it note.

That's a presumption you might not want to make, says Denton resident Walter Waddle, a recent Loncar client.

In the January 9 Dallas Observer cover story, "Smash 'em and smile," several former Loncar employees described the attorney's office as something akin to a hospital without doctors, a place where non-lawyers do legal work with little or no supervision. The article also detailed allegations from former female employees that Loncar had a habit of describing to them his sex life in disgusting detail, telling one woman, for instance, how he and his wife "fucked four times yesterday."

The story prompted a letter from Dallas attorney Stephen James Raynor, who suggested that the Observer "spend less ink on Mr Loncar's personal predilections, peccadillos, or perversions and more time on Loncar's lawyering abilities or lack thereof."

He introduced the story of Waddle, a 40-year-old Denton man who gathered his own client's-eye view of the workings of Loncar's shop when he ran up a string of three criminal charges for driving while intoxicated last year and hired Loncar to represent him.

Waddle is currently in the Denton County jail, and according to Raynor--whom Waddle hired last month after he canned Loncar--he's in there because Loncar didn't see fit to show up for a November 4 court appointment or to rectify his mistake afterward.

Loncar screwed up a few other things too, Waddle claims, including not knowing exactly what charges Waddle was facing, even after being reminded by him and his ex-wife at least three times.

One thing Loncar didn't have any trouble doing, though, was demanding his fee. He asked for $2,500 up front, Waddle says, and complained bitterly when Waddle was slow paying the last $350 of that sum.

Loncar, asked to comment last week, replied, "No," and hung up the phone. In a letter to Waddle, he says, "I have done nothing wrong in this case."

The story begins in the early 1990s, when Waddle, a church choir director with a master's degree in music and a job as a courier, became mired in alcoholism and its frequent side-effect: DWI charges.

In 1991, after being arrested for two DWIs, Waddle hired Loncar on a recommendation from an attorney who was friends with Waddle's wife. At that point, Loncar had a small practice, and Waddle was pleased with his handling of the cases.

Loncar plea-bargained the cases to suspended jail time and a two-year probation, records show. Waddle stayed out of the way of the law for four years, until last June, when he was arrested again for DWI, this time in Denton. Four months earlier, his wife Alisa had ended their 17-year marriage, but they remained close, and he was helping support their three kids.

Between June and the critical court appearance in November, Waddle was arrested twice more in Denton--on September 29 and October 10--and had begun attending an alcohol treatment program in Arlington, he says. After Waddle's October arrest, Alisa, who works as a legal secretary, says she called Loncar's office and told him that her husband had been arrested again for DWI. Loncar told her that he would "take care of everything," she says.

Waddle paid a total of about $1,200 to a Denton bail bond company and was free pending trial on all three charges in October and early November.

On Friday, November 1, Waddle recalls, his bail bondsman notified him that he was scheduled to appear before District Judge L. Dee Shipman on Monday, November 4. Denton bail bondsman Lee Mitchell confirmed that he sent Waddle the notice.

"I immediately contacted Brian's office and they said that Brian was going to be in mediation on the 4th, but that they would contact the court and get the hearing rescheduled since I was still in treatment," Waddle recalls.

In a sworn affidavit, Alisa Waddle says her ex-husband was at her house on the morning of November 4 because one of their children was sick. She remembers asking him to call Loncar's office again to confirm that the court appointment had been rescheduled.

"Walter used the telephone in my presence at approximately 8 a.m. to contact the office of his attorney because he had been informed...he was scheduled to appear in court that morning," the ex-wife wrote the court in her affidavit.

"The individual he spoke to in Brian's office told Walter that Brian would be in mediation that day and that Walter should go ahead and go to treatment because their office would fax a letter of explanation to the court and request a continuance.

"Acting upon the suggestion of his attorney's representative, Walter attended chemical dependency treatment on November 4 rather than appearing in court. His attendance can be verified by the treatment facility if necessary."

Raynor, Waddle's new lawyer, wrote the judge later: "According to his ex-wife, the only reason Mr. Waddle is currently in jail is because of the failure of Mr. Brian Loncar to appear in your court and pass a case for announcement [meaning postpone the appearance until a later date]. Word is that you would not allow his paralegal to pass the case."

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