Former Gov. Zell Miller swore in Justice Harris Hines of Marietta to the No. 2 spot on the Georgia Supreme Court before a standing room-only crowd in the state Capitol on Thursday.
Miller also swore in Justice Hugh Thompson of Milledgeville as the high court’s chief justice.
As presiding justice, Hines is in charge of the court when Thompson is unavailable. Hines also sits on the Judicial Council, the governing body over Georgia’s court system. He will now chair that council’s policy committee, which examines legislation impacting the court system.
A number of Cobb Countians were present for the ceremony from U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and Attorney General Sam Olens to former Gov. Roy Barnes and Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin.
“What makes him a good judge is he never changes. He’s always seeking the truth of the case, and he just treats everybody fairly and alike. It’s consistency,” former Justice Conley Ingram of Marietta said of Hines after the ceremony. “I’ve always felt like he was such a great judge in Cobb County and now on the Supreme Court. He’s just been a friend and a person I’ve admired all our lives.”
Hines said he, Barnes, and Isakson were all running for office in Cobb County for the first time in 1974.
“We all ran in 1974 and we got to know each other,” Hines said.
Isakson was campaigning for a seat on the Cobb Board of Commissioners, Barnes was running for the Georgia Senate and Hines, who had recently been appointed to the State Court of Cobb County by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter, was running to retain that office.
Barnes recalled it well.
“We’d all ride together, we’d be going to events, we’d go together, and I knew Johnny, and we got to be friends then,” Barnes said. “Harris Hines is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever known because what you see is what you get. There is nothing hidden about Harris Hines. He is the most transparent, good guy I have ever met. He is living proof that good guys do finish first.”
Isakson called Hines a friend to everyone.
“He’s a very nonpartisan type of a guy in the way he handles himself and a very respected jurist,” Isakson said. “I can’t remember a time I’ve heard anybody say anything but the highest praise for him.”
Quail and biscuits
Hines is known for the quail breakfasts he serves after bird hunts, the senator said.
“Harris never saw a meal that he didn’t like,” Isakson said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be asked a couple of times where he’ll have a number of members of the bench and lawyers over, and they’ll have grits and biscuits and gravy and quail.”
When he thinks of Hines, Isakson said several things come to mind.
“First, his even temperament,” Isakson said. “Harris — the last thing he is — is a volatile person. He is as steady as you go. He’s got a very even temperament. That’s No. 1. No. 2, he’s curious, which I think for a judge is very important because you have to want to hear all the facts to make the ultimate decision that you have to make, and he is predictably solid, meaning you’re not going to find him going off on a tangent somewhere, he’s going to be right down the middle.”
Baseball lessons from Erk Russell
Hines, who is 69, was born at Fort McPherson while his father was stationed there during World War II. His mother was a teacher with Atlanta Public Schools.
“They taught me ... nobody is better than me, but I wasn’t better than anyone else, and they also showed me there were people that had needs and for those of us who were lucky to have some economic advantages. … We had a responsibility to help,” Hines said of his parents.
Before Erk Russell was defensive coordinator for the Georgia Bulldogs and head football coach of the Georgia Southern Eagles, he was the head coach at Grady High School and schooled Hines in baseball.
“I can remember I’m going up to bat in Candler Park, a 14-year-old in a B-team baseball game, and I’m walking up to bat, and he calls me aside, and he says, ‘Harris, I know they always say that you ought to be relaxed and laid back when you’re playing.’ He says, ‘I always thought I did better when I was bearing down.’ And it just kind of stuck with me, and I thought, ‘I think I’ll do a little bit better if I bear down and really go at it full steam,” Harris said of the advice Russell gave him.
Courts and technology
Miller appointed Hines to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1995.
One topic the high court is adjusting to is the technology revolution, Hines said, referencing a recent case out of Athens that involved police using thermal imaging to spot marijuana growing in a house.
“We were unanimous in saying that the statute of Georgia that they were using in the search did not provide for the use of thermal imaging at that time,” Hines said. “Now, the Legislature may come back and amend that statute, which is certainly their purview to do it, but that’s what we did.”
Cases involving the access to cellphone information are also becoming common, he said.
“Usually technology is ahead of the law, so you’re always kind of catching up — if you want to use that term — and probably in a rightful way because you think it through, and you try to rely on precedent, what is most similar to it.”
Hines said in 2012 the seven-member court issued 392 opinions.
The death penalty
Prior to his appointment to the high court, Hines served on the Cobb Superior Court where he tried three death penalty cases, one resulting in life, one resulting in acquittal and one in death.
“It’s very complex, very time consuming. The motions you will hear, you will hear hundreds,” he said.
Death penalty cases are particularly hard on jurors.
“The thing for them too is it’s very emotional because you’re dealing with the tragedy of a lost life already, then they have that burden of determining if we find guilt, what our sentences are going be, and you see people — you can tell, people crying, it’s very emotional,” he said.
During such cases, Hines said he falls back on his training.
“You realize you’re in there to give both the state and the defense a fair trial, and as long as you focus on that it’s kind of like ‘do your job,’” he said. “I am here to do my job, do it correctly, whatever is going on around me I need to provide a competent and a fair forum for this case to be tried, and that’s what I try to do in all cases.”
Hines graduated from Grady High School in 1961 and from Emory University in 1965 where he also earned a law degree. After law school, he joined the firm of Edwards, Bentley, Awtrey & Parker of Marietta before Carter appointed him to the state court.
It’s a ‘good life’
“From a selfish standpoint I have had a chance to meet people all over this state, all 159 counties, I can’t say I know all of them in all 159, but darned if I don’t know them in most, because the court has gone there, they’ve come here, and I’ve gotten to know people in this state,” Hines said. “I’ve been blessed with good health. I’m pretty energetic. I just like what I’m doing and ready to keep doing it. It’s been a good life.”
Married to the former Helen Holmes Hill of Talladega, Ala., Hines and his wife have two children, Mary Margaret and Hap Harris.
Mary Margaret and her husband, Clem Doyle, have two children, and Hap and his wife Kelly have a daughter.
An elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Hines said his faith has been a source of comfort.
“I think it gives you a calmness in troubled times that there is something bigger than you, and it gives you the assurance to just do your best, call it like you see it, treat people fair,” Hines said. “It has been a calming presence in difficult times knowing that ultimately something much greater than you is in control. You couldn’t give me a gift that would be as nice.”
Isakson said he was proud of his friend.
“I’m proud of my friendship, I’m proud of him, and I’m proud Cobb County’s got him in our county,” Isakson said.