By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — The death of a beloved civil attorney from a prominent Jewish family — possibly under suspicious circumstances — has shocked family, friend and members of the Dallas legal community.
Dallas Fire-Rescue continued their investigation this week into the death of Ira Edwin Tobolowsky — whose body was discovered the morning of Friday, May 12 in the burning garage of his two-story residence in the 7000 block of Kenshire Lane.
Tobolowsky, 68, had a brilliant legal career and was adored by many, explained his brother-in-law, Stuart Prescott.
“He was instantly a friend to anyone — whether that person was a friend, a ‘friend of a friend’ or a member of his family,” Prescott said. “He was the guy we all turned to. He would put anything aside to provide his wisdom and guidance.”
The discovery of the body came while authorities were in the process of extinguishing the blaze at the Tobolowsky home.
An autopsy from the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office is pending, a spokeswoman said. Authorities and family members hope it can shed light on the circumstances behind Tobolowsky’s death.
Dallas Police deferred comment on the case to Dallas Fire-Rescue officials, who confirmed the fire was “suspicious in nature” but added they have not yet determined if arson was the actual cause.
Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said investigators canvassed Tobolowsky’s neighborhood Monday, May 16 and determined neighbors did not have camera footage that could help this investigation.
Authorities declined to discuss particulars of the investigation. But, Stephen Schoettmer, a friend, attorney and family spokesman, said he believes a client or former client of Tobolowsky’s might be responsible for Tobolowsky’s demise.
“I can’t go into detail about how he died, but it was a criminal act,” Schoettmer said. “They found some things at the site of Ira’s death that are inconsistent with noncriminal action.”
Schoettmer said authorities discovered an accelerant that was “present in a very unusual container.”
There were concerns about a possible connection between Tobolowsky’s death and a lawsuit in the court of District Court Judge Eric Moye. Authorities provided 24-hour courtesy patrols around the judge’s home during the weekend, confirmed Dallas County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Melinda Urbina.
Schoettmer said the person he believes may have been responsible for the death — whom he declined to name — had very ill will against Tobolowsky.
“Did this person ever say he was going to kill him or set him on fire?” Schoettmer said. “No. He’s too smart for that. But he fundamentally slandered his (Tobolowsky’s) reputation. He accused him of every frivolous thing he could think of.”
A father of three, Tobolowsky’s family includes state District Judge Emily Tobolowsky; University of North Texas Professor Peggy Tobolowsky, a lifetime trustee of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation; and actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who has appeared on television and in movies such as Groundhog Day.
A member of Mensa, Tobolowsky was one of the youngest lawyers admitted to the bar in Texas history. He practiced law for more than 45 years and argued before the United States Supreme Court in 1982.
Tobolowsky was a Southern Methodist University law school graduate who practiced law for more than four decades — much of that time as a partner with Tobolowsky & Burk.
Prescott said Tobolowsky was stoic — suffering from severe arthritis but never complaining about it, always keeping that pain to himself. Tobolowsky worked hard to help others and his law career inspired many members of his family — including two sons and four nieces — to become attorneys, the brother-in-law said.
Many family members declined to comment about his death, deferring to Prescott. Prescott said his brother-in-law was immensely respected.
“He was a lawyer’s lawyer,” Prescott said. “Judges loved him. He would beat people in court and those same people would turn around and hire him for something else.
“It seemed like there were a thousand people at his funeral (Sunday). There was an unbelievable outpouring of love and affection for Ira and his family.”