Lawyer defends controversial former APD officer while pursuing doctorate at UT

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Deadlines have ruled attorney Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez’s life for the past 31 years. From completing doctoral assignments to writing briefs, the lawyer has become an expert in time management. He spends his spare time in the courtroom reading about history.

Icenhauer-Ramirez, 55, practices mostly criminal defense but defends clients in civil cases as well. He currently represents former Austin Police Department Officer Leonardo Quintana in two civil lawsuits concerning the May 2009 Nathaniel Sanders II shooting. The full-time attorney is simultaneously pursuing a doctoral degree in American history at UT.

The attorney, a Hebbronville native, graduated from Texas A&M University with a history degree in 1976. He ended up applying to and was eventually accepted into UT’s School of Law the same year. Upon receiving his law degree, Icenhauer-Ramirez worked in attorneys’ offices in Port Arthur and later in Austin, but he said his interest in history lingered.

“History allows you to look at the bigger world,” he said. “It lets you escape into something that you don’t really have any awareness of when you grew up, sheltered in a town with 3,000 people.”

History professor and graduate adviser James Sidbury said he does not have any doubts that Icenhauer-Ramirez will complete the doctoral degree while practicing law even though it conventionally consumes an individual’s full-time attention for six to eight years.

“Earning a Ph.D. in history is quite difficult,” Sidbury said. “That Robert is taking on this while working full time as an attorney says everything you need to know about his work ethic.”

The attorney undertakes about 40 to 50 cases at any given point, down from the 100 he assumed at a younger age, and has worked with clients in high-profile cases. He represented Forrest Welborn — one of the suspects in the yogurt shop murders in which Austin police found four girls dead in a North Austin establishment in 1991 — and eventually got him acquitted.

Now, Icenhauer-Ramirez represents the former officer who became the center of controversy after fatally shooting the 18-year-old Sanders.

Quintana was patrolling East Austin when he spotted a car reportedly seen at several crime scenes in the area. Quintana found Sanders and 22-year-old Sir Lawrence Smith sleeping in the car and tried to wake them up. When Sanders pulled out a gun, the former officer fatally shot Sanders in the chest. Sanders’ family and Smith have filed separate lawsuits against Quintana since the incident.

Although Quintana was fired and arrested for misdemeanor charges, Icenhauer-Ramirez said he does not have a problem differentiating between the lawsuits’ issues and his client’s other legal troubles.

“If something is going on in the other side of the case or in someone’s personal life, you have to realize that it will affect in some way how the person handles the case,” he said. “I try to limit myself to looking at these specific issues and not worry too much about where it goes from there.”

Bobby Taylor, an Austin attorney who has worked both with and against Icenhauer-Ramirez in the past, said the attorney’s straightforwardness and honesty make him stand out.

“When he says something, he does it,” Taylor said. “When he represents his client, he does it very zealously. I take faith in what he says. If he commits to or says something, he’s going to stand behind it.”

Icenhauer-Ramirez said he hopes to complete his doctoral degree — with just the comprehensive exam and doctoral thesis remaining — in the next three to four years, but will continue practicing law after attaining the degree.