Calif. newspaper publisher Hays dies in Mo. at 94

Howard H "Tim" Hays, a former Associated Press board member whose stewardship of a California daily newspaper for a half-century included a First Amendment fight that produced two landmark Supreme Court rulings ensuring open courtrooms across the country, has died at age 94.

Hays died Friday after a period in declining health due to Alzheimer's disease. His decades as editor, owner and publisher of The Press-Enterprise, of Riverside, Calif., also included a 1968 Pulitzer Prize for community service for a series of more than 100 stories exposing corruption in the courts by judges and lawyers who were conservators for the estates of local Indian tribe members.

The Harvard-trained lawyer was editor of The Press-Enterprise for nearly all 51 years there. He pioneered the publishing of zoned editions to cater to individual communities and grew daily circulation from 18,000 in 1946 to 167,000 in 1997, when the newspaper was sold to the A.H. Belo Corp., of Dallas.

Former AP President Lou Boccardi recalled Hays as someone who could always be counted on to search for the principle of the subject under discussion.

"What's at the root? What's this really about? And I think that mindset drove some of what he was able to do in the larger context of First Amendment victories," Boccardi said. "He was a person driven by a press conscience."

The Media Law Resource Center in 2003 honored Hays for his work, noting in an article the impact of his fights for court access.

"Were it not for Tim Hays and The Press-Enterprise under his stewardship, jury selection in this country might be as cloudy and mysterious a process as the deliberation of a grand jury," the article said.

The newspaper's openness-in-government crusade resulted in separate rulings that are now commonly referred to in First Amendment cases as Press Enterprise I and Press Enterprise II.

In the first, in 1984, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the public has a presumptive right to observe jury selection, a decision that followed a judge's decision to close the questioning of prospective jurors in a murder trial. In the second, in 1986, the high court ruled 7-2 that the public has a right to view pretrial hearings after a judge closed more than a month of preliminary hearings in another murder case.

Tom Hays, an Associated Press writer based in New York, said his father was proud of the First Amendment achievements.

"I think it was unusual for a newspaper of that size, which at the time was modest compared to the major newspapers in the industry, to take on that cause," he said. "And the time and expense and effort involved in doing that and taking the leadership role was something that was extraordinary."

Tim Hays was born on June 2, 1917, in Chicago and moved with his family to Riverside seven years later. In 1939, he graduated from Stanford University. In 1942, he earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.

During World War II, he spent several years as a special agent for the FBI before joining The Press-Enterprise in 1946 as an assistant editor under his father, Howard H Hays Sr., who was editor. Three years later, he became editor.

In the 1950s, he played a role in establishing the University of California at Riverside. In the 1960s, he made an imprint in journalism history when he led a series of stories that exposed fat fees charged by judges and lawyers who were trusted to protect the estates of Agua Caliente Indians in Palm Springs.

After the newspaper ran an editorial calling for a state investigation of the scandal, a judge who was a focus of the articles became angered and ordered Hays arrested. But other public officials refused to carry out the order, and he did not appear in court on the advice of lawyers. He was not jailed, and the Pulitzer Prize was awarded the following year.

Tom Hays said his father appreciated the honors but "wasn't an accolades guy."

"He was appreciative of it, and it obviously was a big deal, but it was one story that was representative of the high standards he set for this newspaper in reporting," he said. "It started before the Pulitzer, and it continued well after it."

Although Tim Hays was quietly forceful and unyielding in his causes, he was humble and unpretentious and made a point to know his employees by name, sometimes addressing them in memos as "Fellow Employees."

In 1966, Hays established the Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture, a series of free lectures that have featured news media leaders including retired Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, New York Times columnist Gail Collins, former CNN President W. Thomas Johnson and The New Yorker magazine staff writer Lawrence Wright.

At a 1997 retirement dinner for Hays, Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham told 180 invited guests that Hays was "one of the great, principled editors of his generation ... one of his generation's foremost advocates of the First Amendment."

Still, his humility was legendary, and he sometimes dismissed praise with humor, telling a gathering in 2003 that the man who introduced him "said kinder things about me than I could imagine, and I was so impressed and so pleased by these that if he would agree to go down that path with me in the future I think I'd run for president of the United States."

Hays was on the board of directors of the American Society of Newspaper Editors from 1969 to 1974 and served as its president from 1974 to 1975. He also served on the Pulitzer Prize board and was an AP board member for nine years. He moved to St. Louis after his retirement when the newspaper was sold.