Dallas County Judge Recuses Self Over Safety Concerns, Connects Defendant in Civil Case to Suspicious Death

Man sought for questioning by Dallas police detectives skips requested hearing for a different judge

The suspicious death of a Dallas attorney has triggered tighter security inside the George Allen Courts Building in Downtown Dallas and on Wednesday a Dallas County District judge made a direct connection between the defendant in an ongoing civil lawsuit -- Steven Aubrey from Austin -- and the possible murder of attorney Ira Tobolowsky.

"I think at this point with the allegations which have been made related to Mr. Aubrey and his implication in the death of Mr. Tobolowsky and related issues, I don't think that it is unreasonable for a judge other than myself to hear this case," said Dallas County District 14 Judge Eric Moye. "And so I've conferred with Judge Murphy and we have agreed that a voluntary recusal is appropriate at this time."

Moye had extra deputies in his courtroom Wednesday. Over the weekend he expressed safety concerns after the death of Ira Tobolowsky and the Dallas County Sheriff's Department said his safety fears were "legitimate" because of contentious civil litigation he was presiding over.

Deputies patrolled his neighborhood, but those extra patrols have since been stopped. However, two deputies have been stationed in his courtroom for extra security.

On Wednesday Moye took himself off the ongoing civil litigation involving Aubrey, which originally dealt with a family trust matter but has ballooned to include multiple recusal motions and motions for sanctions.

Tobolowsky, who was the lawyer representing the Aubrey family trust, sued Steven Aubrey for defamation.

In a motion for sanctions filed last month, Steven Aubrey asked for more than $500,000 from Tobolowsky and wrote that: “Tobolowsky must be punished with sanctions for his outrageous abuse of the judicial system and his violation of statutes, codes and rules.”

Wednesday’s hearing was about Aubrey’s motion to get a different judge assigned to hear that case.

Even though Aubrey wasn’t there Moye recused himself from dealing with Aubrey again, but then so did a second judge. Now the state supreme court could get involved and assign a judge.

Meanwhile, investigators are still trying to locate Aubrey, who was not in court on Wednesday to defend a motion he filed.

Arson investigators are only saying Tobolowsky's death Friday morning in his garage was suspicious. Dallas police sources told NBC5 that the death is being investigated as a homicide, but it has not been officially classified as a murder.

Arson investigators and Dallas police detectives have not named a suspect nor a person of interest. They have also remained tight-lipped about who they've already interviewed regarding Tobolowsky's death.

But on Wednesday NBC 5 learned investigators have been trying for at least two days to track down Aubrey, who is nearly 6 feet 5 inches tall, to talk to him.

A law enforcement source said detectives on Monday went to the courthouse and handed out Aubrey’s photo to Dallas judges and court staffers and told them to remain on high alert if they spotted him.

"The judge was appropriately concerned about security. The judge has been in the courtroom with Mr. Aubrey on multiple occasions. And all of us want to be careful," said Stephen Schoettmer, attorney and close family friend of Tobolowsky. "I’m numb at this point for the most part, but recovering."

Aubrey filed a motion asking for a different judge assigned to the defamation case, but he didn’t come to Moye’s courtroom Wednesday to defend his request.

Schoettmer said he wasn't surprised Aubrey didn't show up and that he "didn't think he would be here."

Schoettmer said Tobolowsky’s three sons want answers about what happened to their dad. One of the boys is set to be married at the end of the month; that wedding, the family said, will go on.

"I'm close to those boys and we had a great relationship," Schoettmer said. "There are three young men that have lost their father, it’s just a horrific situation."

An NBC News crew stopped by Aubrey's known address in Austin but no one answered the door.

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