The Georgia Supreme Court mourned the loss of retired Chief Justice P. Harris Hines with a somber opening followed by silence before beginning oral arguments Monday morning.
“Chief Justice P. Harris Hines was one of Georgia’s great lawyers and judges and public servants,” Presiding Justice David Nahmias said. “His name and his work will be recalled forever in the law of Georgia, but Harris Hines was an even greater man. Because of the loving kindness he so freely extended to others, he was loved and cherished by every member of this court, by our staff and by just about every person who ever met him.”
Hines was killed Sunday afternoon when his car flipped over on Interstate 85 as he and his wife, Helen, were on their way back home to Marietta after watching their granddaughter sing during worship at her church in Newnan. Friends said the car went too close to the concrete barrier, then over corrected and flipped. Mrs. Hines survived with no serious injuries and was there with her husband of 50 years as he passed.
“We lost him recently as our colleague, but we had hoped and expected to continue to have him as our friend for many years to come. Losing him yesterday leaves a hole in our hearts that will be hard to fill,” Nahmias said.
Hines stepped down at the end of August as he approached the retirement age for Georgia appellate judges. He celebrated his 75th birthday as well as his 50th wedding anniversary in September. That same month, Chief Justice Harold Melton succeeded Hines, and Nahmias became presiding justice to replace Melton.
As presiding justice, Nahmias leads the court in the chief’s absence. But on Monday, Melton sat silently beside him.
“Harris was particularly close to Chief Justice Melton, who started his legal career as an intern to then-Judge Hines and remained his close friend for three decades. Speaking so soon about the man he followed would be too great a burden on our chief, which is why I have the privilege of speaking for our court today,” Nahmias said.
Then Nahmias’ voice broke as he spoke the next sentence.
“Our most sincere thoughts and prayers are with Chief Justice Hines’ beloved wife, Helen, their son, Hap, their daughter, Mary Margaret, and their entire family,” Nahmias said.
Nahmias lost his own wife, Catherine O’Neil, just over a year ago. She was a partner at King & Spalding, and also a former federal prosecutor and senior U.S. Justice Department official. They have two teenage sons. At the investiture ceremony for Melton and Nahmias, it was Hines who took note of her absence. Melton’s wife held the Bible on which he placed his hand to take the oath of office. Nahmias rested the Bible on the podium and stood alone. “She is with us,” Hines said to Nahmias that day. “I promise you.”
“The Hines family has long been part of our court family, and they will always be a part of our family,” Nahmias continued. “In closing, please join me for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Chief Justice P. Harris Hines.”