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Veteran attorneys Pence and Hensel leave Taft to launch own firm

June 5, 2010

Linda Pence, one of the city’s highest-profile litigators, is launching her own firm with a longtime law colleague.

She and David Hensel left the Indianapolis office of Cincinnati-based Taft Stettinius Hollister LLP to start PenceHensel LLC. The new firm began operating June 1.

The pair hung their shingle on the 18th floor of the downtown M&I Plaza and will concentrate on complex civil and business disputes, as well as white-collar criminal defense work.

They said conflicts of interest that arise more from practicing at a large law firm began to hinder their ability to represent clients. Taft Stettinius, which has additional Ohio offices in Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton, absorbed Sommer Barnard PC in 2008.

“They get conflicted out of a lot of things because of our firm,” acknowledged Robert Hicks, managing partner of Taft’s local office. “It’s frustrating.”

Linda Pence Pence

Their close professional relationship has endured the past 20 years, despite their political differences. Pence, 60, is a Democratic stalwart who ran unsuccessfully for Indiana attorney general in 2008. Hensel, 53, is a Republican who served a short stint as a Marion Superior Court judge.

“We are very good friends,” Pence said. “We’re very different, but we have a great deal of mutual respect. We trust one another.”

Though Pence has tried cases for two of the city’s largest law firms, including as a name partner at the former Johnson Smith Pence Densborn Wright & Heath, she’s no stranger to the solo practice.

She founded her own firm in 1986 after returning to Indianapolis from Washington, D.C., where she served 13 years as a trial lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice.

David Hensel Hensel

Hensel, who also had practiced in the nation’s capital, returned to the city in 1990 and began working for Pence, though neither previously had known the other.

The pair have been practicing together ever since, minus a four-year hiatus from 1997 to 2001, when Hensel served as deputy commissioner and chief counsel for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and later as a judge.

Their legal careers have taken them to Johnson Smith and to Sommer Barnard and Taft Stettinius, and now back to what they prefer.

“This is what I really want to do,” Pence said. “David and I have had an incredible 20 years of practicing law together.”

The two are confident their legal experience will help them weather the challenges of launching their own business amid a sputtering economy.

Some of their clients are following them to their new firm, while others will benefit from the resources of a larger practice, Pence said. Both Pence and Hicks at Taft described the departure as amicable and said they will refer clients to each other.

John David Hoover, who helped launch Hoover Hull LLP following the demise of Johnson Smith in 2001, said Pence and Hensel should do well.

“They’ve practiced together for a long time and have been friends for a long time,” he said. “They’re both great people.”

Pence gained acclaim 10 years ago when she negotiated settlements in two high-profile cases within a six-month period.

In November 2000, while representing independent dealers of Shell Oil Co., she struck a deal with Shell attorneys under which the oil company bought out the dealers’ service stations. The dealers had accused the company of trying to drive them out of business by raising their rents, overcharging for gasoline, and unfairly competing against them with company-owned stores.

Then, while representing the state of Indiana, Pence and Thomas Barnard, a partner at Taft Stettinius, accepted a $14.2 million settlement offer from Pendleton-based Guide Corp. The now-defunct manufacturer agreed to pay the money to federal, state and city agencies as a result of a massive White River fish kill in 1999.

Most recently, Pence was nominated by U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, to become the U.S. attorney in Indianapolis—a position that remains vacant.

Pence said she withdrew her nomination in October because the process was taking too long and preventing her from taking cases.•

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