EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated at 2:43 p.m. to include statements from Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs and again at 6:16 p.m. to include a photograph of the Jan. 4, 2021 swearing in ceremony posted by Judge Bill Gravell.
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – With his family in tow, Dee Hobbs stepped up on a riser outside the old courthouse, placed his hand on a Bible and swore to his oath of office. The Jan. 4 swearing-in was the official start of Hobbs’ second term as the elected Williamson County Attorney.
That same morning, Hobbs was in a virtual swearing-in ceremony where his staff of assistant county attorneys were given a similar oath.
Among those sworn in virtually: Jason Nassour.
“Jason Nassour is an entry-level prosecutor position with the County Attorney’s Office with a salary of $67,657.46 and performs the duty of General Counsel,” Hobbs’ office wrote to KXAN in an email on Jan. 14. The office confirmed a virtual swearing-in ceremony happened Jan. 4.
Last august, the county commissioners court voted to eliminate Nassour’s position by stripping the $147,049 in salary and benefits and moving that money over to a new general counsel position within the commissioners court.
Commissioner Russ Boles asked for the budget elimination after Hobbs’ office “created” multiple conflicts and was unable to represent the commissioners court when the court needed the county attorney’s services. “Typically, the county gets sued and we typically look towards—among other places—the county attorney to help us with that litigation. Our county attorney had conflicted himself out of being a representative of the commissioner’s court and several cases, as well. Yet, the demands are still there to manage that litigation,” Boles said in an August 11, 2020 budget hearing.
The commissioners court voted to move a total of $177,000 budgeted to Hobbs to fund the position. Those tax dollars are now under the commissioners court budget to use to hire legal counsel when needed.
Boles said the reason he proposed taking the funding from Hobbs’ office was the county was facing a “mountain of lawsuits,” including legal battles between Chody and commissioners related to Live PD’s access to record its now-canceled reality television show. Hobbs’ office was giving Chody legal counsel and representing the sheriff’s office against the commissioners court, Boles told KXAN.
Despite the elimination of funding for Nassour’s position taking effect Oct. 1, Hobbs maintained Nassour’s employment as his general counsel.
Nassour is a co-defendant in the ongoing criminal investigation into the death of Javier Ambler. Ambler died following his arrest in March 2019 while two Live PD cameras recorded the arrest. The video shows Ambler telling Williamson County deputies J.J. Johnson and Zachary Camden he couldn’t breathe as the two tried to handcuff Ambler.
In September 2020, the Williamson County grand jury indicted Nassour and then-Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody each on one count of evidence tampering. The indictment alleges both men “while acting individually and as a party with another, did, knowing that an investigation was pending or in progress … destroy or conceal a record, document,” in the investigation into the Ambler death the indictment stated.
Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick later confirmed the evidence was Live PD video recordings of Ambler’s arrest.
Nassor and Chody did so “with intent to impair their availability as evidence in the investigation,” the indictment alleged. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charges following their booking in the county jail.
Both Nassour and Chody are under investigation in Travis County, Dick told KXAN in a September press conference announcing the indictments. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office is looking into similar crimes identified in the Williamson County grand jury investigation, Dick confirmed.
A decision from the Travis County grand jury was initially expected sometime this month, former Travis County DA Margaret Moore said in September. However, newly-elected Travis County DA Jose Garza issued a statement Thursday indicating he intends to present the Ambler case to the grand jury by the end of March.
Garza said the Ambler case is pending and still under investigation by his office’s Civil Rights Unit.
Chody lost his re-election bid just weeks after his arrest. At the time of Ambler’s arrest, Nassour was working as Hobbs’ general counsel. Nassour maintained an office remotely. Nassour’s position was budgeted for $177,000 in the 2019-2020 county budget.
Hobbs confirmed he never placed Nassour on leave following the indictment and has not plans to do so. Hobbs declined an interview request, instead issued the following statement:
“Jason Nassour is a valued asset to the County Attorney’s Office and Williamson County as stated by Commissioner Boles, who proposed cutting the position. The problem, as stated by the Commissioner, was not with Mr. Nassour or his performance. Mr. Nassour was willing to take a much-reduced salary to continue serving the citizens of Williamson County. Further proving it was never about money for Mr. Nassour (as hard as some find that to believe), he simply wants to serve this community,” Hobbs wrote in a Jan. 14 email to KXAN.
“Mr. Nassour was never placed on administrative leave as it was determined he has committed no ethical, moral, or legal violation after reviewing the alleged incident. I look forward to the criminal process being completed so everyone can move forward. Since I can determine no violations by Mr. Nassour placing him on paid administrative leave does not serve the taxpayer and placing him on unpaid administrative leave puts the county in a liability situation if no violation(s) can be established at this time,” Hobbs wrote.
Messages sent to Nassour by KXAN have not yet been answered.