Harris Hines, retired Ga. Supreme Court justice, remembered in court

Then-Chief Justice Harris Hines listens to oral arguments at the Georgia Supreme Court in January 2017. Hines, 75, died in a car accident on Sunday. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

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Then-Chief Justice Harris Hines listens to oral arguments at the Georgia Supreme Court in January 2017. Hines, 75, died in a car accident on Sunday. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Friends and colleagues of Harris Hines, who rose to the top of Georgia’s judiciary, reacted with stunned sorrow Monday at the news of his sudden death.

Hines, 75, died Sunday afternoon in a car accident on I-85 near Cleveland Avenue as he drove to his Marietta home from Newnan where he heard his 8-year-old granddaughter sing in a church choir. The former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice was pronounced dead at the scene.

His wife, Helen, who was also in the car, was conscious and alert when she was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. An initial investigation showed that Hines was changing lanes and lost control of his car, which overturned after hitting a guardrail, an Atlanta Police summary of the incident said.

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Newly sworn in Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton (left) is applauded by former Chief Justice Harris Hines, who died Sunday in a car accident, during the official oath taking ceremony at the State Capitol in September. On Monday, Melton called Hines “a mentor and one of my dearest friends.” (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Newly sworn in Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton (left) is applauded by former Chief Justice Harris Hines, who died Sunday in a car accident, during the official oath taking ceremony at the State Capitol in September. On Monday, Melton called Hines “a mentor and one of my dearest friends.” (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Newly sworn in Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton (left) is applauded by former Chief Justice Harris Hines, who died Sunday in a car accident, during the official oath taking ceremony at the State Capitol in September. On Monday, Melton called Hines “a mentor and one of my dearest friends.” (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Hines’ legal career spanned five decades, much of it in Cobb County where he sat as a trial judge until 1995 when Gov. Zell Miller put him on the state high court. Hines retired from the Supreme Court just two months ago.

Gov. Nathan Deal expressed sadness over the news.

“A brilliant legal mind and devoted public servant, Justice Hines’ more than four decades on the bench helped to make Georgia a better state,” the governor said in a statement.

On Monday morning, the state Supreme Court convened as scheduled to hear oral arguments on a handful of cases. The courtroom was packed with court staff and Court of Appeals judges who came to pay tribute to Hines.

In an emotional address, Justice David Nahmias said the court wanted to pay respect to an admired colleague.

“He was loved and cherished by every member of this court,” Nahmias said. “Losing him yesterday leaves a hole in our hearts that will be hard to fill.”

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The late Justice Harris Hines was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Atlanta Braves game not long after he retired from the Georgia Supreme Court. Photos: Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

The late Justice Harris Hines was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Atlanta Braves game not long after he retired from the Georgia Supreme Court. Photos: Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

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The late Justice Harris Hines was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Atlanta Braves game not long after he retired from the Georgia Supreme Court. Photos: Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

Credit: Kevin D. Liles

Nahmias broke down when saying the court’s members were thinking of Hines’ widow and the couple’s two children. “They will always be part of our family,” Nahmias said, wiping away tears.

When Nahmias finished, the courtroom observed a moment of silence.

Nahmias said he gave the tribute because it was “too great a burden” for Chief Justice Harold Melton, who has long called Hines his mentor and close friend.

In a statement, Melton said he and his colleagues were shocked and devastated.

“Because of the love 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,” Melton said. “My heart is broken.”

“An outstanding jurist and an even better man,” Stephen Dillard, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, said in a tweet. “I will miss my friend dearly.”

As a parent, he routinely attended Marietta High School football games to see his son Hap, who was later a kicker for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, and he went to soccer games to watch his daughter Mary Margaret, who later played for Rhodes College.

In a tweet, Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin said Hines was “a man for all Marietta and Georgia seasons.”

City school board member Allison Gruehn said she was honored to have known Hines for 35 years.

“A brilliant legal mind, but an even better father, grandfather, husband and friend,” she said. “He always had a great story to tell with a twinkle in his eye. … He was one of a kind and will be missed by so many.”

ExploreRead and sign the online guestbook for Justice Harris Hines