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Howard H "Tim" Hays (1917-2011)

William J. Brennan, Jr. Defense of Freedom Award Recipient, 2003

Former owner and publisher, Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California

Hays_photoThe Media Law Resource Center honors Tim Hays because his half-century career as a publisher and editor led to standards of openness in government that we now often take for granted. He and The Press-Enterprise took the battle for open courtrooms to the highest courtroom in the nation — not once, but twice. And won both times.

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 Press-Enterprise sued after a judge closed the questioning of potential jurors in the 1981 rape and murder trial of Albert Brown. Three years later, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment gives the public a presumptive right to witness jury selection.  "The value of openness lies in the fact that people not actually attending trials can have confidence that standards of fairness are being observed," Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote in Press Enterprise I. "The sure knowledge that anyone is free to attend gives assurance that established procedures are being followed and that deviations will become known."

Were it not for Tim Hays, the public often could not see the stage at which criminal prosecutions begin – and at which most of them end.  The Press-Enterprise sued again after a judge closed 41 days worth of preliminary hearings in the 1982 murder case of Robert Diaz. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the First Amendment holds open the door to pretrial hearings as well.  "The right to an open public trial is a shared right of the accused and the public, the common concern being the assurance of fairness," Chief Justice Burger wrote in Press Enterprise II.

Tim Hays, never one to tout his own accomplishments, played the story of his own newspaper’s national triumph below the fold. But a few weeks later, the editor of the daily paper in Santa Cruz made the enormous impact of Press Enterprise II plain.  "I thought you might be interested on how important – and how immediate – an impact your ‘Press Enterprise II’ litigation has had on some of your newspaper brethren," the editor wrote in a letter to Tim Hays. "In a few words, the strength of The Press Enterprise v. Superior Court quite forcefully carried the day in Santa Cruz Municipal Court on Aug. 12, 1986."

Both decisions, I and II, have carried the day in countless other American courtrooms for nearly 20 years.

Washington Post publisher Don Graham has called him "one of the great principled editors of his generation."  Born in Chicago in 1917, Tim Hays moved to Riverside with his family at age 7. He graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in 1939 and earned an LL.B. from Harvard three years later.  But before moving into his career as a journalist, he briefly held a job on the other side: He was a special agent in the FBI during World War II.

In 1946, Tim Hays joined The Press-Enterprise as assistant editor under his father, Howard H Hays, Sr. Three years later, he took the helm as editor, and in 1965 he added the title of co-publisher.  During the 1950s, he played a major role in the founding of the University of California at Riverside, to which he would make his "anonymous" donation many years later.  Tim Hays served as the sole publisher of The Press-Enterprise from 1983 until 1988, then became chairman. Finally, in 1997, the Hays family sold the newspaper to the Belo Corporation, and Tim Hays retired to become chairman emeritus.

Along the way, he cemented a national reputation as an editor more than willing to take on the forces of secrecy and corruption in government. One effort won his paper the highest award in American journalism – and nearly landed him in jail.

In 1967, The Press-Enterprise ran a series of more than 100 stories exposing the outsized fees charged by judges and lawyers who served as conservators for the estates of local Indian tribe members. That October, the paper ran an editorial calling for a state investigation of Indian guardianships under the jurisdiction of Judge Merrill Brown.  Judge Brown apparently didn’t think much of the pieces, because he ordered Tim Hays to appear in his courtroom to answer questions. But the court clerk and county attorney refused to act on the judge’s order and Tim Hays refused to appear on advice of counsel.  Judge Brown then tried to have Tim Hays arrested, setting bail at "two bits."  "That’s his stature in my opinion," the judge told reporters at the time.

It didn’t work. And in 1968, The Press-Enterprise won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service "for its exposé of corruption in the courts in connection with the handling of the property and estates of an Indian Tribe in California, and its successful efforts to punish the culprits."

The Pulitzer might stand as the highest award of Tim Hays’ career in journalism, but it was hardly the last. The same year, Hays was honored as the California Press Association’s "James F. Craemer Newspaper Executive of the Year."  In 1985, following Press Enterprise I, the newspaper won the Agness Underwood Award for support of open government and First Amendment rights, and the Edward Willis Scripps Award for Service to the First Amendment.  A year later, The Press-Enterprise won the Freedom of Information Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

Tim Hays sat on the board of directors of the American Society of Newspaper Editors from 1969 to 1974, and served as the organization’s president from 1974 to 1975. He has served the International Press Institute, the American Press Institute, the Pulitzer Prize board and the governing board of the Associated Press.

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