September 2013 – Courtroom - Supreme Court of Georgia.
On a hot morning, a little more than five years ago, I was standing before the nine justices ready to make an oral argument in a criminal case that the Court chose to hear after months of litigation. To my right was the most talented appellate prosecutor in the state; Emily Richardson.
Emily had argued before the Supreme Court many times over the years. This would be my first.
Emily had the facts of the case and law on her side. I did not. But Emily is a true professional. She did not do anything except show me around and answer my questions with a smile.
My argument would be a mountain of a challenge. Nevertheless, I was ready to engage.
Interestingly, the person who assisted me the most when I was preparing briefs and arguments was our firm’s first year law student intern, Cawanna McMichael. Her legal talent and work resulted in a brief that barely needed editing; despite the bad facts in our case and the law in other states ruling for the prosecution in similar situations.
As it turned out, God’s will was for her to come back to the firm. We are so blessed that she recently returned to us not as a law student, but as a skilled lawyer with great passion.
As the hearing began, my nerves were on edge. Both lawyers were interrupted and asked multiple questions, which is normal. However, it was not normal for every single justice to ask a question. That is very rare.
After the hearing, Emily and I shook hands and parted ways. As I looked up at the bench, I waved goodbye to Justice Harris Hines. He smiled back, and I left for Carrollton.
Harris Hines (September 6, 1943 – November 4, 2018) was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia for a span which began in 2017 and ended in 2018. Hines was born in Atlanta and graduated from Henry W. Grady High School. He received his bachelor's and law degrees from Emory University. He was appointed to the Supreme Court on July 26, 1995 and subsequently re-elected by the voters of the state.
Hines was elected Chief Justice by his colleagues in September 2016. Hines announced his intent to retire on August 31, 2018. On April 17, 2018, Justice Harold Melton was elected as Hines' successor, and he was sworn in by Hines on September 4, 2018.
I was fortunate to know this gentleman for years. Though I would not realize it at the time, my last conversation with him took place in June 2018 beside the pool at the State Bar Annual Meeting as we ate lunch. He was as happy as I had ever seen him.
This week, I was shocked and saddened to receive word that Justice Hines died in a traffic collision on November 4, 2018 just over two months after retiring from the bench. He was just 75.
I thought to myself that even in retirement, he was giving so much of himself. Why now?
As with many mysteries in life, we are not meant to know the reasons. But, as with Justice Hines’ early death, mysteries are often painful.
As Harris Hines looks down from Heaven, I hope that he can see the positive impact he made on the courts, professionalism within the law, and our state with his lifetime of public service.
Thank you, Justice Hines, not only for your service, but for the example you set for thousands of lawyers.
Professionalism, integrity, and honor come first. Quality lawyering and judging naturally follow.