Harold Berliner: Nevada County’s connection to ‘the right to remain silent’
Miranda Rights Warning
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.
Here in Nevada County, Harold Berliner is remembered as a man who was passionate about fine printing on old-school press equipment.
That was his passion, but he was also an attorney — serving as the Nevada County District Attorney from 1957 to 1973 — whose legal work has had lasting impacts on his former hometown, county, state and nation.
In 1966, when the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona changed procedures for law enforcement agencies across the United States, the governor of California asked Berliner to help write a short script that officers could use to advise suspects of their rights when being arrested.
These words later became known as the Miranda Rights Warning, and Berliner printed that script on wallet-sized cards that officers would read from while making arrests.
That’s where his daughter, Judith Berliner, got her start in the printing trade at age 14.
“That’s kind of what I did,” Berliner said.
“My job was to run the Miranda Imprint.”
It was a family business, involving several of Judith’s five sisters.
“When he started this business, my older sister was the bookkeeper,” Berliner said. “My next sister was the shipper and I was the printer, kind of by default.”
Berliner started his first print shop in his parents’ basement in San Francisco in 1939, his daughter, Ann Cogan, said in a previously published story in The Union.
He attended law school and completed a master’s degree in English at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. While there, he founded the student-run Eric Gill Press. After graduating, Berliner moved to Nevada City in 1945 and bought the shop of the defunct weekly Nevada County Citizen.
His plan was to print books, Berliner said in a 1999 interview. But when he and his wife started a family, he found the printing business was not enough to support all eight of their children, he said.
Berliner started a private law practice and worked with attorney Bill Weatherall before devoting his full attention to the growing county’s District Attorney’s office. Berliner hired former Nevada County Superior Court Judge Frank Francis as his lone assistant district attorney in 1963.
“He had a lot of energy and could organize his thoughts well,” said Francis in 2010, when Berliner died at the age of 86. “As a DA, he was unique in the breadth of the cases he handled.”
One of the most notorious cases Berliner prosecuted was the homicide conviction of Clarence Otis Smith, who hacked two people to death with a sickle at Bear River Campground in July 1971. Smith received life in prison.
In a 1999 interview, Berliner called the case exciting, but said the work he did on land-use issues was one of his most important contributions to Nevada County.
When subdivisions were built without roads and sewer systems, Berliner took the developers to court. Then-county planner Sharon Boivin credited the development of Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley to Berliner’s land-use crusade. Berliner convinced Boise Cascade — Lake Wildwood’s developers — to give the county the land for a park.
Berliner was passionate about protecting the county he loved, said daughter Ann.
“He really looked for good growth and not rapid development,” she said.
At the time that Berliner wrote the Miranda Warning, daughter Judith said, he also owned a print shop in downtown Nevada City. And he reportedly enjoyed luring great artists into the area by offering them a bed and a bar tab during their stay.
“He kind of owned the downtown, and the bars,” Judith said. “He liked a good whiskey.”
Judith later left Nevada County for a time, but she came home in 1991 to start Full Circle Press, a small commercial printing company running traditional analog equipment out of the room where she first learned to operate a press.
She’s passionate about the work, and the equipment.
“It kind of makes me cry,” she said. “It’s the only thing I’ve known.”
“He was a huge influence on me,” she said. “He gave me the gift of a trade. I’m really glad it gave me a platform to meet him on, too. We had something to connect on.”
Harold Berliner’s contribution to the American legal system was significant. When he died, in April 2010, his passing was recorded in the Los Angeles Times. But he was also passionate about the arts, and in his later years became an influential land-use advocate here in Nevada County.
The well-known lawyer also printed fine art posters and cards and made his own fonts at Harold Berliner’s Typefoundry, the largest privately owned hot- metal casting foundry in the world.
Harold Berliner and his wife Mary Ann had eight children, including six daughters, many of whom still live here in Nevada County.
To date, Berliner has at least one great-grandchild living here in Nevada County, with another on the way.
To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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