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State justice speaks to city civic groups

Staff Photo: Alice Queen. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harris Hines spoke to a joint meeting of the Covington Rotary Club and Covington Kiwanis Club on Tuesday at DeKalb Technical College. Shown above with Justice Hines are Superior Court judges from the Alcovy Judicial Circuit: from left, Judge Horace Johnson, Judge John Ott; Justice Hines, Judge Ken Wynne, and Judge Samuel Ozburn.

Staff Photo: Alice Queen. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harris Hines spoke to a joint meeting of the Covington Rotary Club and Covington Kiwanis Club on Tuesday at DeKalb Technical College. Shown above with Justice Hines are Superior Court judges from the Alcovy Judicial Circuit: from left, Judge Horace Johnson, Judge John Ott; Justice Hines, Judge Ken Wynne, and Judge Samuel Ozburn.

COVINGTON -- Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harris Hines touched on several topics during his address to a joint meeting of the Covington Kiwanis and Covington Rotary Clubs on Tuesday. His most important point he saved for last.

"The most serious problem we have in Georgia is that we ... are getting close to 40 percent of children in Georgia who are from single-parent homes," Hines said.

This issue, Hines said, will have a more far-reaching impact on the state as a whole than economic conditions, growth or educational achievement.

Hines noted that the late Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Sanford Jones, who died in a plane crash in Alabama in 2009, had tracked 13,000 cases through the Fulton County juvenile justice system. Of those 13,000, Hines said that Jones found that 78 percent either did not know who their father was or did not know where their father was.

Research has determined, Hines said, that the single most accurate predictor of future criminal behavior is whether there is a father in the home.

Single-parent homes also face an increased risk of living in poverty, Hines said. He referred to the oft-quoted three simple rules to avoid living in poverty: 1) Finish high school; 2) Marry after age 20; and 3) Do not have a child before marriage. Only 8 percent of those who follow these "rules" will live in poverty at some time in their lives, Hines said.

"If we do not address this problem, children will be hurt, young mothers will be hurt and the fathers will be hurt," Hines said.

Hines, who is a graduate of Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, Emory University and Emory University School of Law, said he believes Georgia is doing a good job in education at the elementary and university levels. The high school level, he said, is an area where improvement is needed. Hines pointed out that the percentage of students who complete high school in Georgia is not keeping pace with population growth in the state.

Hines said he expects a legal challenge to reach the state Supreme Court over the way public school systems are funded in the state. Smaller, less affluent school districts are often at a disadvantage in terms of local funding for schools, Hines said, as compared to more metropolitan school districts. A challenge to the way school systems are funded in Georgia has been dismissed at the Supreme Court level; however, Hines said the issue has not been laid to rest.

"That is an issue that is going to be a huge, huge issue when it comes (to the Supreme Court)," he said.

Hines was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1995 by Gov. Zell Miller. Prior to his appointment he served as a judge of the Superior Court of the Cobb Judicial Circuit for more than 12 years. He also served as a judge of the State Court of Cobb County for eight years.