Like Joe Greed the Ford peddler and Widetrack the Pontiac hound, attorney Brian Loncar is almost universally recognized in North Texas. A half-million dollars a year in tacky TV ads will do that.
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."
Some of Loncar's professional peers say lawyers who advertise serve a purpose by providing legal services to low-income clients. But some of those who know Loncar's practices say he represents the worst of the type. "Really," says Dallas lawyer Stephen Grimmer, who is representing one of the women suing Loncar, "this is not somebody who should be practicing law."
The offices of Brian Loncar & Associates, located in the renovated Renaissance Place, just across Jackson Street from the George L. Allen, Sr. Courts Building in downtown Dallas, exude an air of prosperity. There's the marble staircase leading to offices on the second-floor balcony, the red leather sofas in the reception area, and the large abstract oils and acrylics on the soaring walls.
Here, roughly 14 employees handle as many as 1,400 clients a year, most reeled in by Loncar's abundant advertising on TV, Howard Stern's radio show (where Stern joked in one ad that he didn't even know he was hurt until he called Loncar), the Yellow Pages, D magazine, and other outlets.
Loncar's full face, lofty forehead, and receding hairline have been staples on daytime TV and the back of DART buses since the early 1990s, when legal reforms dried up his practice in workers' compensation claims and he refocused on collision cases.
In 1994, Loncar spent $593,000 on advertising, according to a document provided by a former employee in which Loncar analyzed the efficacy of ads in the various media. That year, TV ads alone brought in 465 new clients, at a cost of $741 a head. It was his top draw.
Loncar employs two attorneys in Dallas--one specializing in personal injury law and a second with expertise in criminal law--to handle the small fraction of cases that go to court. Four so-called adjusters, each of whom oversees roughly 75 cases at a time, move along the bulk of the cases, employees say. These are claims in which auto accident victims are negotiating settlements with insurers before lawsuits are filed. The standard fee is one-third of the settlement.
That process would not be worth noting if lawyers are overseeing the work. But the picture that emerges in the lawsuits against Loncar, and in several interviews with former employees, is that clients' claims are processed like so much hamburger by people without law licenses.
"Given the tremendous amount of advertising expenditures, the success of the business required quick turnover of clients and quick settlements," Robert Love, a Dallas personal injury lawyer, observed in a lawsuit he filed against Loncar two years ago. Love was Loncar's office manager from 1992 until 1994, when he became a personal injury lawyer as well.
Love's attorney, Mark Zimmermann, said flatly in a hearing in that case: "Non-lawyers practice law at Mr. Loncar's shop." Loncar's attorney, Randall Hill, denied that allegation.
Accident victims would never meet with an attorney, says Shirer, a board-certified personal injury specialist now practicing with another Dallas firm. "The large percentage were settled by people who I don't even know if they even had college degrees."
Shirer was Loncar's litigation specialist in personal injury cases from November 1992 until February 1995. His job was to file lawsuits in the cases that insurers wouldn't settle, and he handled about 200 of those a year. They were mostly the "dogs," he says--instances of people claiming to be seriously hurt when there was little damage to their vehicle, or where liability was questionable.
In a more typical case, he says, an accident victim would telephone the office, and the call would be screened by either the office manager or one of the more experienced paralegals. If it sounded reasonable, one of the office's "road warriors," again a non-lawyer, would drive to the person's home and sign him or her to a contract for legal services.
If the individual did not have a doctor, the Loncar paralegal would suggest one. "It's not like we had any special relationship with the doctors," says Shirer. "A lot of them were owed money by Loncar. He was a slow payer."
After the sign-up, one of Loncar's four adjusters would be assigned the case. That person would produce a demand letter and begin negotiating a settlement with the insurers, Shirer says. All but about five percent of the cases would be handled this way, ending in settlements averaging about $10,000.
"It was like a hospital run by nurses," says Shirer, explaining that in most firms lawyers are the ones who screen clients and negotiate settlements. "I don't think a lot of people got the representation they could have."
Roxanne Linscomb, who worked for Loncar for about five months as an adjuster before she quit last winter, says Loncar didn't supervise her settling of cases. In fact, she says, he would become aggravated if she asked him for advice. "He didn't want to see the cases," she says. "When he'd have a meeting, he'd be mostly concerned about how the money was coming in. If I went into his office with a problem case file, I'd be told to get out. He didn't want to deal with it."
During much of his last year with the firm, Shirer says, Loncar had "checked out" and "wouldn't be in the office much. His day-to-day activities were limited, and involvement in the cases was almost nonexistent."
Loncar hardly ever took time to prepare a case, even those he decided to try with Shirer, the former associate says. He'd just grab the client's file the day of the trial and wing it, Shirer says.
The Texas Board of Legal Specialization, which certifies lawyers as experts in areas such as criminal law or family law, concluded in 1994 that Loncar did not have enough experience as a personal injury trial lawyer to sit for their exam. Loncar told Texas Lawyer that he was shunned because of a "good ol' boy thing at the board."
Shirer, who was working with Loncar at the time, says it was no secret among plaintiffs' lawyers and those who defend the insurance companies that Loncar was not the one preparing and trying the cases his office brought to court.
Because most clients would never see a lawyer through most of the process, they were usually irate by the time their cases got to him, Shirer says.
The Dallas Better Business Bureau reports that Loncar, a bureau member since 1988, nonetheless has a "satisfactory record" with no customer complaints.
"Brian's ads didn't bring in the best-educated clients," Shirer says. "They weren't even blue-collar. I don't think a lot of them would know who the Better Business Bureau is."
One particularly good source of injury claims was those people whom Loncar's office had represented in the past on criminal matters. "For some reason," Shirer says, "criminals tend to get in a lot of accidents."
With Loncar keeping up the heat to produce settlements and revenue, his office was often a demanding place to work.
Tara Felmly, who began working for Loncar in November 1995 as an office manager, gives a baleful diary of life in Loncar's employ in a lawsuit she filed in state district court in June. Loncar would repeatedly scream obscenities at her, refer to her in vulgar terms, and on some days confine her to her office--or "hole," as he would call it--she says in the suit.
It wasn't uncommon for him to refer to women in the office as "bitch," "fuckin' cunt," or "pussy," Felmly claims, adding that he referred to one of the abstract paintings in the office as a picture of a clitoris.
Talking repeatedly about his sex life, Loncar once told Felmly about a bachelor party that he attended where he got "head" and had two women go at him at once, she alleges. She also says that he spoke about his "wife giving him a blow job in a carriage," and "told employees that if their wives did not give them blow jobs, that they should not get married."
One day--Felmly alleges in her suit--Loncar told her he was in a great mood, because he and his wife "fucked four times yesterday." Loncar told her that if his wife divorced him, he would go for anyone between 21 and 40. He said women like him for the money, travel, and the "good fuck" he could give them, she claims.
When a job needed to be filled, Loncar told her to hire a cute Hispanic girl "with big tits" whom he could "bone" if his marriage went sour, Felmly claims in her suit. He specifically told her "not to hire any niggers," she says.
Another pending lawsuit, brought in federal court last May by Cindy Alcoze, Felmly's predecessor in the office manager job, makes some of the same general accusations.
Alcoze worked for Loncar from September 1993 to September 1995 as his personal assistant, then office manager, earning $42,000 a year.
In her lawsuit, she accuses Loncar of subjecting women in the office to constant sexual harassment. Specifically, she lists "Loncar's constant use of derogatory terms to and about women, changing clothes in front of Alcoze and others," comments about Alcoze's and other women's breasts and other aspects of their anatomy, inquiries into other women's sexual activities, "descriptions to Alcoze and the other women of Loncar's various sexual escapades," and his attempts to compel her and other women to discuss their sex lives in office meetings.
Alcoze and Felmly would not discuss their claims, but two other female former employees concurred in interviews that Loncar could be lewd and harassing.
In a sworn affidavit, former Loncar file clerk Adela Plasek says he asked her a lot of inappropriate questions when she interviewed for the position, including "Do you have a boyfriend?" "Are you on the pill?" and "Are you anytime soon planning on having children?"
"I really wanted out of my last job, so I kind of ignored it," Plasek says.
"I do not think this is a sane man," she writes in her statement. "One particular time, he bent over and pulled down his shorts and showed his bare buttocks to myself and two other employees to show us the difference in his tan."
Linscomb, the former adjuster, says Loncar would often talk about his sex life, going into things such as "how he and his wife really had a time together."
"He'd mention previous acts too," she says. "How two women and himself would do it. 'Fifteen to fifty [years old], it doesn't matter,' those were his words," Linscomb recalls.
Linscomb says she filed a harassment complaint against Loncar with the Texas Commission on Human Rights and eventually may bring suit. "He'd go around calling you a 'b' or a 'c,' you know, those words," she says. "You didn't hear him calling the men derogatory terms...You work for him for a while and you have no self-esteem left--you wonder if you're worth anything. I just think he's evil."
Loncar, in a story published shortly after the lawsuits were filed, called the women's claims "absolutely nutty." His attorney, Chris Weil, told Texas Lawyer in September that Loncar denies the women's allegations and "expects to prevail against any claims that remain by the time the cases go to trial."
He said Felmly's lawsuit "is some indication of her intense personal feelings arising from her three months of employment, and Ms. Alcoze's suit indicates the impact of Ms. Felmly's activities in encouraging others in Mr. Loncar's office."
Several former male employees recall that Loncar could be extremely moody and foul-mouthed at times, but they don't remember him being abusive toward the women in the office.
"I never heard him say anything crude to a woman straight to their face," Shirer says. "When he was upset, you'd hear him scream obscenities from one end of the office to the other, but there wasn't anything sexual about it."
Shirer's former secretary, Rita Paredes, says she did not experience any harassment from Loncar. "You couldn't be very thin-skinned and work for him, but I've worked for others more abrupt in their speech than him."
Love, the former office manager, agreed. "He's a very hard person, but that doesn't make him a sexual harasser. He'd treat men and women equally as bad. If he'd call a woman a bitch, he'd call me a bastard."
Love, who these days describes himself as friendly with his old boss, kicked off the present flurry of employee lawsuits against Loncar in 1995, when he sued Loncar for defamation and wrongful firing. He alleged that Loncar wrote a letter to the State Board of Law Examiners accusing him of being a drunkard and organizing a kickback scheme with a chiropractor's office where Love's wife worked.
"Cindy [Alcoze] brought that down to me after it was drafted," Shirer recalls. "I said 'do not send this--it's libelous and slanderous and it will cause problems'...Brian sent it anyway."
In a pre-trial hearing in Love's defamation suit in July 1995, Shirer testified that Loncar said "on maybe four occasions to me that he fully intended and was having Mr. Love followed by a private investigator...His plan was to have his investigator follow Mr. Love during the evening hours on the weekend...in hopes of finding Mr. Love inebriated and then having the investigator call policemen to have him arrested for DWI.
"He told me on a few occasions that he wanted to basically destroy Robert. He wanted to prevent him from becoming an attorney."
Randall Hill, an attorney representing Loncar during that hearing, conceded that the investigator who followed Love made a videotape. In other court papers, Loncar says he does not dispute that he asked his office manager to hire an investigator to follow Love.
Denying the rest of Love's allegations, Hill said, "The whole idea of this lawsuit is this young would-be lawyer was caught in a kick-back scheme and he wants to exact his revenge by trashing Brian Loncar in public."
Love says he handled the books for Loncar's firm, and claimed in his suit that "as his knowledge of the business increased, he became increasingly disturbed by how client money was used."
During the pre-trial hearing, Love testified that money was taken from a client trust account and transferred to the firm's operating account to cover expenses for a trip to New Orleans to film a commercial. He also said that non-attorneys would "run cases," meaning bring in clients in return for payment of $300 to $500 for each, a practice that is barred by professional ethics.
Love also testified that fees from some criminal cases that were paid in cash were not reported to the IRS. Once he saw a brown bag filled with $15,000 in cash, he told the court.
Felmly makes some of the same accusations in her lawsuit. At Loncar's request, she says, she was told on several occasions to take money from the client trust account and use it to pay for either personal or business-related expenses.
Felmly became concerned about the appropriateness of that practice, her lawsuit states, and let Loncar know. He told her that if she did not do it, he'd find someone who would. On one occasion, Loncar threatened to withhold everyone's paychecks if she did not take money from the trust account, she says. Loncar reminded her that he "owned her," and told her he did not "pay her to fucking think," her lawsuit states.
Alcoze alleges in her suit that Loncar instructed her to defraud the IRS by charging hundreds of thousands of dollars of his and his current wife's personal expenses as business expenses. Court papers her attorney filed last week specifically list salary and benefits paid to a nanny ($315 a week); Loncar's third wife's engagement ring ($78,000 obtained "from cashing clients' settlement checks"); attorneys' fees to defend against the 1994 bigamy charge ($17,500); attorneys' fees to a Las Vegas lawyer to annul Loncar's marriage in that city to avoid the bigamy charge ($1,000); and expenses for Loncar and his wife at Bent Tree Country Club.
The list, which includes individual check numbers, goes on: child support payments, attorneys' fees for his divorce and defense of traffic tickets, payments on jewelry, car repairs, antiques purchased for his home, home cable TV fees, mopeds, "reimbursements for fictitious expenses," personal credit card payments, mobile phones, and payments to his mother and sister.
Those expenses were incurred between April and July 1994, but Alcoze maintains "on information and belief" that the practice of listing personal expenses as business expense has continued since that time.
Alcoze also alleges that Loncar instructed her to carry out what she describes as a "theft of funds" from the clients' trust account, as well as swear to false affidavits and order office personnel to forge signatures on checks and affidavits.
One thing Loncar handles with particular zeal is dissent. Make a move against him, former employees say, and he will push back.
He fired former office manager Tara Felmly on March 1, 1996, telling her that if she said anything about the money taken from the trust account that she would suffer criminal prosecution, she alleges in her suit. Loncar told her and her husband that if they filed any suit or charges against him, he would send them "down the river" and take everything they owned. Loncar said he would drag the litigation out and make it as expensive as possible, she says.
After Felmly hired a lawyer, Loncar called her and tried to convince her that the lawyer would "fuck things up," her complaint alleges. He tried to convince her to settle with him directly, and even suggested she lie to her attorney to avoid paying a fee. She says he reminded her that he was "smart, had charisma, and can lay it on thick."
Adela Plasek, the former file clerk, says she was four months pregnant when Loncar fired her. He took issue with her remaining friendly with his ex-wife Mary, Plasek says.
"When he fired me, he stated, 'Don't try to file for unemployment, because I'll fight it every step of the way, and don't you dare try to fuck with me, because as you can see, I always win,'" she says in her sworn statement.
"After I left, he had a meeting with his employees and told them not to speak to me, because I was dead."
For all of his bluster and his lawyer's promise to prevail against the harassment claims in court, Loncar has chosen so far not to slug it out with his former employees.
He settled with Love last March, paying him $90,000, according to Loncar's testimony at a hearing for an unrelated case.
Loncar agreed to pay Felmly a $27,000 settlement last April, but she complained in court papers in June that he didn't pay her all the money. That settlement also would have required Loncar to give Felmly's husband, Fred Felmly, a $29,500-a-year job as a case manager.
Court records show that Loncar and Tara Felmly reached an out-of-court settlement last month, but Felmly's attorney, Kendra Karlock, declined to discuss its terms.
Lawyer Stephen Grimmer, who is representing Alcoze, says the two sides also have been attempting to settle her case, but are "fairly far apart."
Even if those talks succeed at closing the matter, Loncar still must deal with a State Bar of Texas ethics investigation that has sprung from employee complaints.
Two sources say Felmly filed a grievance with the state bar late last year, although bar officials would not confirm or deny that they are looking into the matter. Love says the bar asked him to appear at an investigative hearing on Loncar, and another former employee has been subpoenaed to testify before a bar grievance committee this week.
The bar's disciplinary process, which takes three to six months to reach a finding, is closed to the public until the grievance panel issues a public sanction or the lawyer decides to fight the matter in district court. Needless to say, if proven, the types of allegations the ex-employees made in their lawsuits involve some serious ethical breaches, a bar attorney says.
Steve Young, the bar's Austin-based lawyer, says the professional code of conduct requires lawyers to safeguard clients' money in separate accounts. "If a lawyer diddles with clients' money, that's a very serious offense," he says. "The lesser sanctions aren't considered in those kinds of cases."
Loncar, the son of a middle-class businessman, was born in Iowa, grew up in Indiana, and came to Dallas after graduating from Texas Tech University Law School in 1987.
A good student, he was associate editor of the school's law review and clerked at one of Dallas' blue-chip firms, Winstead Seachrest & Minick. They didn't invite him back with a job, several sources say.
Instead, Loncar went out on his own as a personal injury lawyer and within a few years began applying his efficient formula of attention-grabbing ads. This kind of crass self-merchandising is sniffed at by the more conservative side of the bar, but there are many who defend it as protected free speech.
"The establishment lawyers prefer that he not be allowed to do what he is doing, in general," says a partner in one of Dallas' pin-stripe firms.
Ads like the one where a car drops through the roof onto Loncar's desk, smashing it to bits, are seen in these circles as just more sludge on the profession's already miserable reputation. But there are those who liken "TV guide lawyers" such as Loncar to dollar stores and garage sales. They serve a segment of the market.
Loncar, who took a very public stand against the state bar's imposition of advertising standards in 1993, said last spring, "I'd advertise against dogs if it brought in more business." He defended his right to do so on populist grounds: "I represent people who wouldn't be let in the door at the firms that want to limit advertising."
Talk of class struggle aside, Loncar's formula has been so successful that he indicated in an application form that turned up in one lawsuit that he made $1.3 million in 1994 and $900,000 in 1995. In October 1994, he bought a $1.2 million, 8,551-square-foot, two-story brick house in Highland Park, complete with seven bathrooms and two wet bars, and furnished it with fine antiques. Dallas property records also show he owns a second home in Far North Dallas, a 3,543-square-foot job valued at $305,840.
But personal injury lawyers around Dallas say the best days for advertising-intensive lawyers like Loncar may be behind them.
The number of lawyers advertising on TV has quadrupled in the past four years, says one competing lawyer. "It gets harder and harder to get your head above the crowd."
Furthermore, plaintiffs' lawyers say a drum-beat of tort reform propaganda by business organizations and resulting shifts in public attitudes have cut jury verdicts and settlements by one-third to one-half over the last several years. That means contingency fees are down by similar percentages.
"The sympathy levels of jurors in Dallas County is nonexistent," says Cynthia Solls, an experienced plaintiffs' lawyer. "This business isn't what it was in 1994."
A man with a sort of Animal House party-monster reputation in his college days, Loncar racked up two DWIs in his first three years in Dallas, receiving two-year probations in 1987 and 1991.
He has told those around him of joining Alcoholics Anonymous in the early 1990s. Still, he hasn't become a stranger to local traffic cops. Since 1987, Loncar has received an impressive 21 traffic tickets: 12 for speeding, and others for running red lights and stop signs or failing to pay on the tollway. A sort of patron saint of bad drivers, he has successfully fought all but one ticket, and that case remains pending.
By most accounts, Loncar isn't a daredevil or show-off driver, just a distracted one.
Stories of similarly quirky behavior surround him.
Roxanne Linscomb, the former adjuster, recalls a time when he took her and a few other employees out to lunch with a doctor who was doing business with the firm. On the way to the restaurant, driving through downtown Dallas, Loncar donned a black Lone-Ranger-style mask and even wore it into the restaurant, she says.
Another time, she says, he leapt off the office balcony, landing once on a ledge, and a second time onto one of the sofas in the reception area.
"He was in obvious pain" when he landed, she says. "There was a client right there. He got up and ran."
A second witness to the incident confirms Linscomb's account. "He's like that," she says.
Loncar's wife, Sue Loncar, testified last year that her husband has hypomania, a mild psychological disorder characterized by abnormal excitability and exaggerated feelings of well-being. He has told people around him that he takes lithium to treat the condition.
"I'm more sympathetic toward him because of it," says Robert Love, who says he has played golf with Loncar and once considered himself to be a close friend. Much of the time Loncar can be funny, engaging, and generous, he says.
For instance, Loncar bought a piece of art last spring that takes a dark shot at personal injury lawyers. The collage by Dallas artist Tim Pashley pictured lawyers' phone book ads--Loncar's among them--surrounding a host of accident victims. The injured souls' faces are shown behind a cracked, bloody windshield, and at the center is Jesus Christ with outstretched arms, which gives the work its satirical title: "Our Lord Hands Over Responsibility to Those Who Care."
After he bought it, Loncar said he would hang it in his office lobby "to get the conversation going." "I can laugh at myself," Loncar said, although a recent visit to his office lobby found the painting nowhere in sight.
His employees say Loncar is often generous with salaries and bonuses, and he is known for handing out $100 bills to his staff after landing a particularly good fee. "There were times you'd have to work late; he'd give you money and say, 'Go buy yourself a good dinner,'" recalls Rita Paredes, the legal secretary.
Says Shirer: "On any day he can be extremely charming, very affable. He isn't arrogant. There are a lot of fun Brian stories. Everybody who meets him remembers him, good or bad."
That goes at least double for Mary Loncar. Legal hostilities between her and her ex-husband have lasted longer than their marriage, which dissolved in 1994 after two contentious years. The union produced one child, Hailey, now 3, who has been the focus of almost continuous family court litigation.
If one does not count their Las Vegas nuptials in June 1994, Brian Loncar married his third wife, Sue Long, on New Year's Day 1995. Before the year was out, however, they were in a no-holds-barred battle with Mary.
In October 1995, Mary accused Sue and her 11-year-old son of inappropriately touching her then-two-year-old daughter, Hailey, and filed with the court to modify their joint-custody arrangement.
By last January, Highland Park police and Child Protective Services confirmed they were unable to determine whether anything illegal had occurred. Mary's attorney, Keith Becker, dropped her action to modify custody shortly after those investigations concluded.
But Brian Loncar was already on the offensive against Mary, more than ready to play hardball. "You get ready for the battle of your life, because I'm going to finish you off once and for all," Loncar sneered at her in a telephone call he tape-recorded, and subsequently was made to turn over to Mary's lawyer. "We are going to sue you until you're done. We are going to bury you...I am going to put your whole family through this."
He continued: "I am suing you from three fronts, you be ready...Let's see how much money you have left."
To help carry out his promise, he hired attorney Chris Weil, who has a reputation in Dallas legal circles for aggressive, biting tactics designed to make things as uncomfortable as possible for opposing litigants.
Loncar filed suit in Collin County to remove Hailey from her mother's custody, and Sue Loncar sued Mary for defamation, alleging that she "initiated a cruel and nefarious scheme of lies and half-truths" about Sue Loncar and her children "in an attempt to manufacture a basis to deny visitation to Brian."
The suit, which asks for $500,000 in actual and punitive damages, accuses Mary of "coaching an innocent two-year-old to blurt out to third parties that one of [Sue Loncar's] children touched her 'peepee,' and that Sue had forced her to breast-feed but that she 'spit out the milk.'" In a third lawsuit, Sue Long's ex-husband, Pat Long, filed a $1 million defamation suit on behalf of his son.
The defamation cases are pending.
Loncar and Weil were handed a blow last month, however, when District Judge John Roach awarded Mary $58,900 in court costs and ruled to maintain joint custody.
Becker, who believes that Loncar's promise to "bury" his ex-wife prompted the award, says he has little respect for Loncar personally or professionally after watching him operate during the case.
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"He's malicious," Becker says. "He uses his law license to abuse people." In one deposition brought during the custody hearing in Judge Roach's court in October, Loncar's grandmother says he told her, "If any of my family even talked to Mary, I will slit their throats."
In person, Loncar seemed barely able to contain himself, Becker says. "A lot of times he is just on the edge of losing total control."
During one deposition, Becker is quoted in a transcript saying, "Shut up Mr. Loncar, shut up. Stop mouthing obscenities to me, please." In another, he says, "I object to Mr. Loncar continuing to comment behind the scenes...If he continues to make faces at [me], I'm going to leave the deposition."
Becker says Loncar seems to resort to intimidation as a rule. "It's a lot of puff, but it frightens people," he says. "I'm surprised by how many people are afraid of him. I just think he's a laugh.