Judge P. Harris Hines just before his investiture as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia on Jan. 6, 2017. (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Justice P. Harris Hines just before his investiture as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia on Jan. 6, 2017. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

 

Editor’s note: On Nov. 4, 2018, the Daily Report reposted this article in the hours after Hines’ death in a car accident.

After a half-century practicing law—44 years of that on the bench, including more than two decades on the Supreme Court of Georgia—Chief Justice P. Harris Hines has written his last opinion.

He figures it was approximately No. 1,000.

It was pretty routine as opinions go, affirming a denial of bail from a grant of a new trial. And now it’s finished.

“My daddy said, ‘Son, when you hire on, be sure and complete your tasks,’” Hines recalled as he packed up “23 years of accumulated papers” and prepared for his last day on the job Friday.

Hines said his last task is to “try to give a clean office” to Presiding Justice Harold Melton, who will move into the chief’s office Tuesday after Labor Day weekend.

“It’s bittersweet leaving,” Hines said. “I’m not one to look back. The practice of law has been good to me. I’m one of those who have always been able to like what they do.”

Asked what he will miss about the job, Hines had quick answers.

“I always enjoyed oral arguments,” he said. “I like to hear good attorneys argue before the court.”

He said he also will miss writing opinions and “most of all … the warm friendship and collegiality of the court.”

Hines graduated from Emory University School of Law in 1968. He said when he learned he had passed the bar exam, he was at the home of his then-girlfriend—Helen Holmes Hill, now his wife of 49 years. His father, James Hines, was having his regular late night coffee at the landmark Plaza Drugs on Ponce de Leon Avenue, near the family home off Highland Avenue, with a doctor friend who worked late at Emory hospital. The elder Hines was reading the early edition of The Atlanta Constitution.

“That was how you found out you passed the bar. They put it in the paper,” Hines said. His father called and said, “Son, your name is in it.”

“I thought maybe my wife would marry me now because I could help to support her a little bit,” he recalled.

Marry him she did, in March 1969. They moved to Cobb County, where he landed a job in a Marietta firm then named Edwards, Bentley, Awtrey & Parker. He practiced civil defense of all kinds. The firm represented developers and lenders in a booming suburb, plus the county and some of the cities. Hines also handled business litigation. He liked the work. He said he wasn’t planning to be a judge.

But in 1974, friends put his name in for an opening on the Cobb County State Court, which handles civil trials and misdemeanors. He made the short list and went to the Capitol for an interview with the governor, who in only two years would be elected president: Jimmy Carter. Carter appointed Hines to the bench that May. Then Hines had to run for election the same year. Then, when the state created a new position on the Cobb County Superior Court, he decided to run for that, and won.

“A superior court judge is the most powerful person we’ve got,” Hines said. “Sentencing, child custody and temporary injunctions all are decided by judges and affect people’s lives profoundly.

“I tried to treat everyone who came before me—party, witness, juror—with courtesy, dignity and respect,” he said. “If people are treated fairly, they’ll trust it. And if they trust it, they’re going to abide by it.”

Another governor, the late Zell Miller, appointed Hines to the Supreme Court in 1995. Hines was 51 when he went to the high court. During his time there, he said the justices have made a concerted effort to reach unanimous decisions “as much as possible to give clear guidance.” Still, they differ and dissent at times, he said. “We vote, and then we go out to lunch together.”

A few nights ago, they went out to dinner together—along with their newest member, Solicitor General Sarah Warren, named by Gov. Nathan Deal to replace Justice Britt Grant, who has moved on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The governor has yet to name a successor for Hines. The Judicial Nominating Commission has already delivered a short list of candidates to Deal, from which he chose Warren. But the governor has since asked for more nominees for consideration to replace Hines.

Although Hines will turn 75—the age by which Georgia appellate judges must retire or forfeit their pensions—he is thinking about starting another career. He said he is considering requesting senior status to work part-time as a judge. But he’s also thinking of returning to law practice or going into the real estate business. “I think I have an opportunity to do all three,” he said.

But first, he plans to take some time off after “working continuously for 50 years.”

Hines said he has been taking vacations with his family on St. Simons Island for nearly all his life, but always in the summer. This year, he and his wife are planning an extra trip. Said Hines, “I’d like to enjoy the Golden Isles of Georgia in the fall.”