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Saturday, January 22, 2000

Martin Pence,
senior federal
judge, retiring

Martin Pence ruled on big anti-
trust cases and helped a
future chief justice

By Harold Morse


Senior U.S. District Judge Martin Pence is retiring after nearly four decades on the federal court bench.

"You live so long, you grow old, that's it," said Pence, who turned 95 on Nov. 18.

Pence -- who was sworn in Oct. 6, 1961, and whose retirement is effective Jan. 31 -- was described by Senior District Judge Samuel King as "one of the great judges."

King recalled that Pence was the first permanent federal judge confirmed here after Hawaii statehood. Earlier, he had been a territorial judge on the Big Island, where he had also been county attorney.

"The county attorney was an elected job, and he was the first Democrat to get elected to that job," King said. "He's had a great influence on younger lawyers who served with him."

Among them is Hawaii Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who was a law clerk for Pence in 1965, according to King. "He was a great mentor and model to me when I came on the federal bench in 1972," he added.

Pence also was responsible for Hawaii having a separate federal courthouse, King said. Early plans called for the courts to be on top of the federal building, but Pence -- who King said was nationally known but very modest -- insisted otherwise.

"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. "He was the chief judge, and he said if you don't build it my way, we won't move."

Among the cases Pence handled was one involving pipes -- "water pipe, sewers pipe, stuff like that" -- that were being sold to municipalities and other buyers, King said.

"He started off just taking one or two cases in California to help out a friend and ended up being the judge handling all the cases," King said. He said there were several hundred of these anti-trust cases in the Western states.

Pence recalled, "I was handling over 400 anti-trust cases." Many big companies making concrete pipe not only fixed prices but also rigged the market, he said.

"The concrete manufacturers seemed to think that was the way to do business," he said. He was designated by the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take over all cases involving these anti-trust actions, he said.

Another case involved a major patent infringement ruling. In that case, Pence awarded $55.8 million to the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. from International Rectifier Corp. for making and selling a drug Pfizer had patented.

Pence said these proceedings were in two parts. The first was a six-month trial in Los Angeles, in which Pence ruled in June 1980 that Pfizer held a valid patent. The damage phase took place in Honolulu and involved six weeks of proceedings to determine the settlement Pfizer would receive.

"That was the largest patent infringement judgment up to that date ever," Pence said.

Pence also handled the bankruptcy phase of extended court proceedings involving swindler Ronald Rewald, who was imprisoned in 1985 for bilking investors out of millions.

Rewald, promising 26 percent interest, took in $22 million in investments, repaid about half in interest, spent $5 million to keep his phony firm afloat and squandered the rest on himself.

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