If Noah Pines felt any conflict about defending the type of person he once prosecuted, he’s resolved it. “Originally I wondered if I could do this,” says the former DeKalb County prosecutor. “But the truth is, many of these people are innocent. We want to believe our criminal justice system wouldn’t allow that to happen, but it does.” He points to the case of Clarence Harris, who was sentenced to life for a rape that DNA later proved he didn’t commit.
Pines now sees that not all prosecutions are fair and equal. “Sometimes there are prosecutors who don’t know the law, or police officers who don’t do their job,” he says. “These cases have a real impact on the lives of defendants and their families. I like to feel I can bring some balance to the equation.”
He counsels a “both sides now” approach to the law. “I think all prosecutors should spend time as defense attorneys, and vice versa,” he says. “It really opens your eyes. There are definitely two sides to the story.”
Pines grew up in Philadelphia without a burning desire to litigate. But when the time came for post-graduate career decisions, answering the “doctor or lawyer” question was easy. “I don’t like blood,” he says with a chuckle.
When he headed to Emory University in 1988, it didn’t take him long to leave Philadelphia behind. “I came in April, and everybody knows how Atlanta is in April,” he says. “It was gorgeous, especially coming from cold Philly.”
Pines kept busy during law school. He interned in DeKalb Juvenile Court with the child advocate attorney’s office, and worked with the district attorney’s office to develop a dual internship program designed to help the two offices share information.
More internships followed — with then-juvenile court Judge Glenda Hatchett, before she moved on to the bright lights of a nationally syndicated television court, and with the solicitor general’s office — and they convinced Pines his future was at the prosecutor’s table.
Through the years, Pines has handled some of the most disturbing cases against children: molestation, abuse and murder.
But seeing the worst of society took a toll. In one instance, witnessing the autopsy of a 5-month-old infant felt uncomfortably close and personal. “My son was near that age at the time, and it really got to me,” he says. “Those aren’t the easiest cases to deal with emotionally. Any time there is a homicide victim, it’s difficult to rationalize why these things happen. When that victim is a child it’s even harder.”
At the same time the demands of a growing family — a wife and two children — were squeezing Pines’ already lean government salary. So when a friend invited him into a partnership, he decided the time was right to leave.
Now, as one-half of the firm Ross & Pines, he handles criminal defense and personal injury cases with his partner, Peter Ross. His firm has four lawyers and five staff assistants and operates by referral. No advertising.
Pines’ knowledge and legal skills have also led him in other directions. For two years he served as cohost of a local Atlanta AM radio call-in program, The Legal Edge, covering legal topics and community issues. The program was popular, but due to scheduling changes was recently placed on hiatus.
The program represented much of what Pines enjoys about his profession. “It may sound corny, but being a lawyer is about helping people,” he says. “There are people who need lawyers but are worried they cost too much, until they find out otherwise.” For that reason, Pines doesn’t charge a consultation fee.
“I’d rather talk to someone who needs me,” he says, “than have a $100 consultation fee keep them from coming in.”