Monday, March 5, 2012

Andy Tobias

We learned the sad news yesterday that longtime former-Assistant District Attorney and Division Chief Andy Tobias passed away.

For most people who worked at the District Attorney's Office within the past ten to twenty years, we all knew Andy as the head of the Grand Jury Division.  However, Andy's career with the Harris County District Attorney's Office spanned over thirty years and there was nobody in that Office that I can remember (before or since) that better exemplified the love of the job.

Andy bridged the gap between the "Old Dog" prosecutors (and their stories of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s) and those of us who were fascinated by the legends that came before us.  He never seemed to tire of walking around the Grand Jury afternoon telling us war stories about things that happened both in and out of the courtroom.  He loved talking about prosecuting the Max Soffar case back in the 1980s.  He truly was a walking history book when it came to the Office.

In his role as the Grand Jury Division Chief, Andy also supervised the Grand Jury interns who came to work for the Office from the surrounding law schools.  Getting a spot working there was a coveted position  in law school and it seemed like everyone who interned for Andy ended up in criminal law -- many as prosecutors, but others as defense attorneys.  There was an enthusiasm for criminal law that he exuded.  In the later years of his career, he supervised many of us that literally had not been born when he first became a prosecutor.

But the biggest thing that Andy represented in my mind was how much the Harris County District Attorney's Office was a family.  In addition to be a great job and a calling to strive to do the right thing, the people that we worked with were so much more to each other than any other workplace environment.  No body exhibited that more than Andy Tobias.

He kept working at the District Attorney's Office long past the point of being eligible to retire.  He proudly pointed out that he was losing money by staying at the Office rather than taking his retirement.  We calculated it out once and realized that was true.  He was actually losing a significant amount of money by not retiring.  He also liked to point out that he had suffered a major heart attack years earlier and even "died on the table", but couldn't wait to get back to work as soon as possible.

I don't know that anybody loved his job and the people that he worked with as much as Andy Tobias.  To me, he represented a bridge of history from a long-gone era, and working with him made me feel like a part of the Office's history.

My deepest sympathy goes out to his family.  I will keep you posted when funeral plans are announced.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Murray for that touching tribute! Please keep us updated on the arrangements.

Anonymous said...

Andy was a prosecutor's prosecutor. I first met Andy forty years ago when he was assigned to the 182nd District Court and Johnny was Chief there. I was representing an individual on a federal writ of habeas corpus and in which Andy had earlier prosecuted that individual out of the 180th. The litigation in that matter would provide us both with laughs when we revisited it in our "war stories" over the years. Andy was an intense advocate, but a gentleman. Few of his caliber will pass our way. The people of Harris County were indeed fortunate to have a person who loved his job and did it so well. My sympathy likewise goes out to his family of which he was so proud.
Calvin A. Hartmann

Anonymous said...

Andy was one of a kind. Always friendly, always helpful, and really knew the law. He is greatly missed. Condolences to Pat.

Roberto Gutierrez said...

I admired Andy Tobias the prosecutor. Working with him was a privilege. I loved Andy Tobias the family man. He was my mentor. He was my friend. My family and I will miss him. Our condolences to Pat, Misty and the rest of the Tobias clan.

Roberto Gutierrez

Jigmeister said...

Andy was the misdemeanor division chief when I was a newbie. He was tolerant of our mistakes and went a long way to reinforcing the notion of always strive to do the right thing. We were proud to be Assistant District Attorneys. Rest in peace friend.

Judge Larry Standley said...

When someone dies, passes away, passed, no matter what word or phrase is used…people get quiet. People get uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say. It’s awkward to even know where or how to express ones thoughts about that person on paper – especially for others to read – anonymously or not.

Maybe we’re afraid the wrong thing might be inferred. Maybe we knew the person, yet feel we didn’t know them well enough to openly express condolences. To me, ALL of these feelings and thoughts are normal human reactions to a tragic event of the death of a loved one or former colleague or friend. So, here I go:

When I began my career at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in the early 1980’s, there were people who had just finished their 3 year commitment and were on their way out. Others were so far above my pay grade I dared not even speak to them. I first met Andy Tobias when he was Division Chief Supervisor of the Misdemeanor Division. Then many years later he went on to supervise the Grand Jury Division.

The entire time I was employed at the office Andy was always a Division Chief Supervisor. Back then, when one made the very personal decision to be a professional lifetime prosecutor and not just get trial experience and move on into private practice, there had to be places for people to look forward to moving UP to as their tenure in the office grew with age: Division, Bureau Chief Slots, and Specialized Divisions, Intake for extra pay – all to keep these well trained career prosecutors on board. Andy would have done it for free – and in essence towards the end of his employment actually did, as already mentioned – LOST money working at the office instead of retiring.

Like the rings on a mighty oak tree that has been felled, each person who worked at the office remembers each other from a different vantage point: either closer to the center of the inner ring, or like me, closer to the middle.
A “vintage prosecutor” who became my supervisor in Special Crimes and I were talking today, and he told me stories about Andy I never knew. How Andy wasn’t always just this super chief “Supervisor” before I came on, but rather a “Journeyman” slug it out No. 2 and Chief Felony prosecutor trying the most serious cases one could imagine. He was the kind of prosecutor who personally dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” and slowly but surely secured solid convictions by carefully hammering each nail in the conviction coffin by hand, elbow grease, and furrowed brow. Andy wasn’t flashy but he was dangerously methodical, serious, and damn good at his mission: “To seek Justice and not merely seek convictions”.

Judge Larry Standley said...

Andy’s word was his bond and more than anything else, he LOVED his job. If I had to guess, with no disrespect to the family, he looked forward to Monday and got a little sad with the coming of each Friday. No question Andy was affectionately known as a walking “War Story”. Ready to tell anyone who would listen, whether they were ready to or not, past tales of hard fought, yet well-earned trial battles from long ago - in the 1970’ when the Office was housed in the old criminal courthouse.

In closing however, I humbly submit that Andy Tobias earned the bragging rights to talk about whatever he wanted to because he earned his stars and if you were lucky enough to hear him, there was always something to learn.
Andy, I only knew you 15 years, yet more knew you earlier and after me. We all met you at a different ring in that mighty Oak tree. But, we all share one thought – YOU WILL BE MISSED BOSS. When I think of you now in your passing Andy, and all you have accomplished for the Office and victims and defendants, of this town, it brings to mind what General MacArthur stated upon his retirement from the Army:

“When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away." And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty”.

Andy, you are now at Peace:

God Bless You and your family,

So very Sincerely,

Judge Larry Standley

Bert Graham said...

Andy and I both started at the Office in 1969. He started a few months ahead of me and was always available to help me w/ advice (like don't forget to prove up Harris County and other essentials about which I knew nothing). We came up through the trenches together experiencing in the beginning those Monday morning stomach churning walks to the court room praying to get through a trial without making an ass of ourselves to the sometimes exhileration of sharing a success w/ each other and/or compatriots at the end of the day or mumbling in our beer about how could a jury be so stupid. Andy became a formidable trial attorney and was a stalwart trial division chief for many years trying the most serious felonies. Andy was tough (not withstanding that pink golf bag he used at one of the DA tournaments). I think I'm correct in remembering he went through SW Texas State (now Texas State) on a football scholarship as a lineman. He was a stickler for doing things the right way and he stuck to his beliefs regardless of momentary swings in popular opinion.
It was an honor to have served w/ Andy Tobias.

Bert Graham.

John B. Holmes Jr said...

Andy was one of the reasons that being a part of the office was so rewarding. There were just really good people who worked closely together to do what was right. In the early seventies Andy was my two person. We tried a lot of cases together and everything that the previous posts have said is certainly true... and then some. I shall always feel proud to have worked with him. He was a really fine person.

John B. Holmes, Jr.

Mark W. Stephens said...

Andy will be sorely missed. My condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Having served on two Grand Juries under Andy Tobias, I am saddened to learn of his death. We learned so much from Andy Tobias and he was always so patient with the newbies unfamiliar with all the acronyms and statutes. We knew how fortunate we were to have the brightest-and-the-best that the HCDAO had to offer. We loved hearing his many war stories and shared in his pride of the many accomplishments of his children.

Andy made us feel like the indictments considered and investigations undertaken by the Grand Jury were the most important link in the CJ chain. He was always extremely - and genuinely - respectful of our role in the CJ system. Every fiber of his being lived CCP Art. 2.01: "It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys. . .to see that justice is done." Nobody had to remind Andy of that; when you were around him, you just knew you were in the presence of Integrity.

Andy was an adjunct professor in the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State and we were so happy to see his experience and many talents put to use teaching students. There's a generation of CJ students blessed by Andy Tobias, as we all were, privileged to serve on a Grand Jury under Andy.

Former GJ Foreman

Anonymous said...

We didn't know it when Andy retired in Fall 2006, but we were nearing the end of a way of life.

Looking back, we'd only have one year left (Fall 2007) before everything starting falling apart.

I remember Andy's retirement party and how happy he was. All the "old-timers" came to celebrate and we could all feel secure in the fact that we were part of something important and long-lasting. For us younger people, it was such an honor to be included.

At that time, there was a long tradition at the HCDA of mentors and mentees. It wasn't anything formal and I doubt it could be artifically created. It just was.

Andy was one of the long-time mentors and IS indeed an important part of the history of the HCDA.

I pray that Andy has found peace.

My sincere hope is for his family and loved ones to find comfort.

Ron Knotts said...

I got to know Andy while still an officer at HPD. I was on a Juvenile special assignment working child pornography and Andy was the fella who prosecuted some of our really bad guys. When I came to the DA's office to apply for a job, Andy was one of the guys who interviewed me. He looked at me and said, "Weren't you one of the detectives who worked the "_________ case". I couldn't believe it. That was in 1972 and I was interviewing in 1989 and Andy remembered me. We got to be great friends during my 20 years with the DA's office. What a wonderful professional prosecutor he was and I know Andy would like nothing better than to be known as a "Professional Prosecutor" for he gave everything he had to the office. I have missed him ever since he retired in 2006. My deepest condolences to his family.

Kenny Rodgers said...

Andy was born and grew up in Marlin, Texas (near Waco). His dad was in the hotel business, and Andy began bell hopping at age 12. By the time he graduated from high school in Marlin, Andy had worked in almost every aspect of the hotel business.

Andy attended Southwest Texas State and was a four year letterman in football there. In 1964 he received honorable mention for All –American small college football.

He married his wife, Pat, on September 4, 1965, while he was attending South Texas School of Law. After he passed his bar exam (per Carol Vance), Andy “hounded” the D.A.’s Office for a job.

On April 1, 1969, Andy began his career in the D.A.’s Office. He was a dedicated and intensive prosecutor. I had the pleasure of working with him on the Travis Morales case (Moody Park riots) in 1978 and when he was the Chief of Division D in 1988. He was always serious, but he had a good sense of humor and could take a good joke.

While he was in court one day, I left a “pink slip” message on his desk to call Mr. L.E. Fant and put the number to the Houston Zoo. When he returned, Investigator Milton Ojeman and I snuck outside his door to listen. He dialed and said “This Andy Tobias with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and I need to speak with Mr. L.E. Fant.” There was a pause, so we assumed that she said, “Sir, this is the Houston Zoo. L.E. Fant?” We heard him say, “Yes ma’am, I understand, but I have a message from Mr. L.E. Fant. Is he there?” By that time we were “rolling” on the floor laughing. He began arguing with her and we again assumed that the Zoo operator said, “Houston Zoo, elephant.” He then said, “Sorry ma’am, someone must’ve played a joke on me.” He came outside his office and saw us laughing our asses off. He smiled and said, “You crazy guys got me.” He shook our hands and we all laughed.

I really enjoyed working with Andy. Bottom line, Andy was a good guy and he’ll be sorely missed by all of us.

God bless him and his family.

Kenny Rodgers

Sid Crowley said...

I'm really sad to hear this. I remember watching Andy and John Holliman try the first Max Soffar trial in the 232nd District Court in 1981 when I was assigned as the number three prosecutor there. I'll never forget his cross-examination of Max's mother who had testified that Max had been at home the night of the murder and she would have heard him leave the house. Andy lowered his voice a bit asking her a question and she replied (she was hard of hearing)"What, could you speak louder please?" Andy was always friendly and willing to help out with advice to young prosecutors. He is probably up there now swapping war stories with Judge Joe Kegans, who said he was her favorite Chief.

Mark Frazier said...

My condolences to the Tobias family. Andy was my first and my last Division Chief during my tenure at the DA's office. He treated everyone in his Division like they were family. From my start until the day I left the office, he was always a mentor--patient with my many mistakes and always willing to lend a helping hand to steer me in the right direction. When the time came for me to decide whether to move on to a new opportunity, Andy was there as my sounding board. As everyone knows, Andy loved to talk, but he was also a great listener, especially when someone really needed an ear. His counsel made my decision a lot clearer, but not any easier. 22 years later I still consider the Harris County DA's Office my family, even though only a few of my contemporaries remain. I think of it that way because of people like Andy Tobias. Rest in peace, Chief!

James Patrick Smith said...

Andy Tobias and I went to UofH law school together and he has been my good friend for 48 years. He was a great assistant D.A. and will be missed by all who came into contact with him. A true professional and a friend who will be sorely missed.

James Patrick Smith

James Patrick Smith said...

Andy Tobias and I went to UofH law school together and he has been my good friend for 48 years. He was a great assistant D.A. and will be missed by all who came into contact with him. A true professional and a friend who will be sorely missed.

James Patrick Smith

James Patrick Smith said...

Andy Tobias and I went to UofH law school together and he has been my good friend for 48 years. He was a great assistant D.A. and will be missed by all who came into contact with him. A true professional and a friend who will be sorely missed.

James Patrick Smith

James Patrick Smith said...

Andy Tobias and I went to UofH law school together and he has been my good friend for 48 years. He was a great assistant D.A. and will be missed by all who came into contact with him. A true professional and a friend who will be sorely missed.

James Patrick Smith

Bill Hawkins said...

Andy Tobias' legacy at the District Attorney's Office will never be surpassed. I did three rotations in divisions under Andy. As a baby prosecutor in the Misdemeanor Division, early contact with Andy with my chiefs introduced me to the idea that a Division Chief was the source for wisdom in dealing with unusual situations that you had never faced before and might never see again. His advice was always insightful.

The really important lessons I learned from Andy in my other two trips under him were the invaluable ones. He shared serious life lessons with us. He was the Division Chief that gave me the advice that I shared numerous times with ADAs. As a lawyer, and especially as a #3 in a felony court, you have to maintain perspective about what is really important in life- your health, your family, and then your job, and always in that order. I will always be forever grateful to Andy and Roberto Gutierrez for giving me the time to be with mother during her last weeks. The docket in my court was huge and needed attention seven days a week from the #3, but they told me to forget the work and go to her side. Not only did they give me that irreplaceable time, but they made sure I had it without the guilt I would have experienced for neglecting my job.

Andy lived the concept of leading from the front. When one of his judges was threatening to do something to one of his chiefs, the first person that judge saw when they came into the courtroom that day was Andy. He knew what you were in trial on and he made sure that we knew he appreciated the hard work. He came through his felony division and checked on his number three prosecutors on a daily basis. He watched over us like a mother hen - always there to protect and support.

He was not just a Division Chief. He was a leader, a living example of how colleagues are family, and a truly fine man. I will never be able to think of Andy without seeing that big smile on his face and knowing how he cared so much about me as a person. My sympathies to his family who shared so much of him with us. Bill Hawkins

Anonymous said...

Andy will be missed but never forgotten.

I met Andy in 1983 after I was hired by Mr. Holmes. He was more than a lawyer. He was one of those rare individuals you were lucky to meet during your lifetime. Andy roamed the halls of the DA's office looking to see who he could help or inspire to keep up the good fight. He was a tenacious advocate in the courthouse for the citizens of Harris County.

Andy assisted me when I tried my first capital case which was the killing of a brother and sister at the Gold Nugget Pawn Shop. During that trial, Andy demonstrated the courage of commitment inspite of the obstacles that were thrown in our direction. He was my division Chief on several occasions and I always knew he had my back. In March of 2001, I was preparing to try Gary Hawkins a non death Capital. Hawkins was the son of the late Gary Graham and no one was interested in assisting. I do not know how Andy found out what was going on but approximately 30 minutes before I left for court he came into my office. He said, "General I heard you need some help". He always called me General and I would say "just give me the pay of a General" and we would laugh. I asked him if he was up to it because I did not want to be known as the person who caused Andy to have a heart attack in trial. I was reluctant to have him join me because of his health. However, we agreed that he would handle the medical evidence and he did. After the verdict was in, to my surprise, the medical evidence won the case for the state. I could see that twinkle in his eyes and that smile on his face. He was back!

I am sure Andy could have been a big time civil lawyer, however he choose to dedicate his life and legal training to speak for the victims of crime. I retired in 2005 and would frequently drop by his office for a chat when I was downtown. He always welcomed me in and we would debate on some issue that neither one of us really understood. But it was fun. I missed that time together after he retired.

I offer my sincere condolences to his wife, his daughter and his extended family. I will always remember Andy for his quick smile, firm hand shake, encouring pat on the back and his sense of humor. I pray that God shows Andy favor and grace. May his soul rest in peace.

Mark Vinson

Gary Lok said...

Andy was my father in law for 11 years. A Gentleman's Gentleman. I will miss him.