dies at 95
He was the first federal judge
to be confirmed after the
isles became a state
OBITUARIESBy Burl Burlingame
Martin Pence, identified much of his life with the federal court system, died yesterday at his home in Maunawili. He was 95.
Pence retired only four months ago, on Jan. 31, after nearly four decades as senior U.S. District Judge.
He had been sworn in on Oct. 6, 1961, the first federal judge confirmed here after statehood, following his appointment by President John F. Kennedy. Previously, Pence had been a territorial judge and county attorney on the Big Island.
At the time of Pence's retirement, Senior District Judge Samuel P. King called him "one of the great judges," a specialist in antitrust issues and the guiding force in creating a separate federal courthouse.
"We wanted to name the new courthouse after him, and he wouldn't let us, even though he was responsible for us getting it," King said then.
Pence's antitrust cases at one time numbered more than 400, including concrete-pipe manufacturers fixing prices and a pharmaceutical patent-infringement case. He also presided over the bankruptcy phase of court proceedings involving high-profile investment swindler Ronald Rewald.
"I've always looked upon him as a mentor and role model, as he has been for many lawyers who worked for him and appeared before him," Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon said today. Moon, who clerked for him in 1965, said Pence will be remembered for "his great expertise in the management of his courtroom and his skill as a settlement judge."
He leaves a legacy of "his knowledge, wisdom and skills as a lawyer and trial judge," Moon said.
Behind a sometimes gruff exterior, Pence had a "terrific sense of humor," Moon said. He also "was a very kind and considerate person. He never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable."
Former Star-Bulletin Editor A.A. "Bud" Smyser, now a contributing editor at the paper, described Pence as a "feisty" and "outspoken," someone who loved being on the bench.
When federal judgeships opened in Hawaii following statehood, Republican Sen. Hiram Fong, then Hawaii's senior U.S. senator, lobbied heavily for a Republican judge, Smyser recalled.
In what he described as a tradeoff, Smyser said Fong got his GOP judge in C. Nils Tavares, a former territorial attorney general, while Kennedy and the Democrats got Pence, a Democrat from Hilo.
"All our federal judges have been highly respected," Smyser said, noting that Pence "started that tradition."
Hailing from Kansas, Pence moved to the Big Island in 1930 to be a claims adjuster. He became a Democratic leader in a largely Republican-controlled judicial system.
Last month, Pence celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary with his second wife, Eleanor.
"He had a deteriorating heart condition, and he was 95," Suzy Hemmings, Pence's youngest daughter, said last night. "But he made it to the year 2000! Just think of the history he had seen, from growing up in the Midwest to men walking on the moon. He was a great man."
Services are pending.
Star-Bulletin reporter June Watanabe contributed to this report.