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Judge recuses himself from case after lawyer's fire death

DALLAS – A Dallas civil district judge cited the suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire death of Dallas lawyer Ira Tobolowsky in recusing himself from a contentious defamation lawsuit filed by the attorney before he died.

<p>The Dallas County Sheriff's Office has assigned two deputies to provide security for Dallas County District Judge Eric Moye after the death of prominent Dallas civil lawyer Ira Tobolowsky on Friday May 13, 2016.  </p>

DALLAS – A Dallas civil district judge cited the suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire death of Dallas lawyer Ira Tobolowsky in recusing himself from a contentious defamation lawsuit filed by the attorney before he died.

Fire investigators have been looking to determine if there are any possible links between the defendants in the case and Friday’s death of Tobolowsky, who sources say had been doused with some sort of fuel and set on fire.

“I think at this point with the allegations which have been made related to (the defendant) and his implication in the death of Mr. Tobolowsky and related issues,” said District Judge Eric Moyé.

“I don't think it is unreasonable for a judge other than myself to hear this case and so I've conferred with Judge (Mary) Murphy and we have agreed that a voluntary recusal is appropriate at this time.”

It will now be up to Murphy, the administrative judge over the region, to appoint a replacement.

Security was tight in Moyé’s courtroom. Two sheriff’s deputies were standing guard in the courtroom in addition to the bailiff. WFAA is not identifying the defendants in the lawsuit because no one has been arrested or charged in connection with Tobolowsky’s death.

The defendants, who reside in Austin, did not attend the brief hearing. Ira Tobolowsky’s brother, George Tobolowsky, and a nephew did attend. Both declined to comment afterward.

“The judge was appropriately concerned about the security and the judge has been in the courtroom with (the defendant) on multiple occasions and all of us want to be careful,” Steve Schoettmer, a longtime friend and an attorney representing Tobolowsky in the lawsuit, said.

He added he was not “at liberty to talk about any developments in the search for Mr. Tobolowsky’s killer.” He said that he had met with Ira Tobolowsky’s three sons.

“It’s a horrific situation,” he said.

Schoettmer declined to say whether Tobolowsky had expressed any fears for his safety.

The prominent civil attorney’s body was found Friday morning inside his burning garage on Kenshire Lane in North Dallas. A bottle filled with fuel was found at the crime scene. Results of Tobolowsky’s autopsy are still pending.

Court documents show the saga began when one of the defendants in the defamation suit sued his mom over a family trust, and the mother hired Tobolowsky.

Tobolowsky's lawsuit filed last July accused one of the defendants of having declared “war” against his own mother and brother and having even referred to the war as a “Jihad.”

Tobolowsky alleged that the defendant had made “defamatory” statement against him in an effort to get him to stop representing the defendant’s mother.

Court records show an escalating war of war between both sides as the case continued.

To date, the defendants had filed three motions seeking to have the judge recused from the case because of supposed favoritism towards Tobolowsky. The most recent motion was filed in February.

Moye awarded $9,000 in attorney fees to be paid to Tobolowsky by the defendants. The judge placed the two defendants in contempt of court for failure to complete the payment in March.

Schoettmer said they have shown a pattern of filing a motion to recuse whenever there is a “tough hearing in front of them.”

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