From the Morning Memo:

The state’s top judge wants to reform what he calls a “relic” of the criminal justice system: grand juries.

In particular, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman is calling for new transparency measures when it comes to cases involving police-related deaths of civilians.

And more controversially, Lippman’s bill in those instances would take the process away from local prosecutors and hand it to judges.

In his State of the Judiciary address this week, Lippman painted the proposal as one that helps district attorneys.

“Able and dedicated prosecutors and the grand jury process cannot win in these inherently incendiary situations. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, no matter how strict the adherence to fairness and the rule of law,” he said.

Lippman repeatedly referred to the current grand jury system as being in need of an update.

“The strict secrecy of grand jury proceedings – originating in medieval England and mandated in New York by statute – can be detrimental to access to justice and public debate over issues of compelling public interest,” Lippman said.

Not so fast, said Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, who also leads the statewide district attorneys association.

In an interview, Sedita took issue with the proposal to have judges reside over such cases, saying such a move is a distinctly European import.

“Our Founding Fathers had rejected that system,” Sedita said.

Sedita questioned Lippman’s criteria for making changes to the grand jury process, which the judge defined in his speech as “cases of significant public interest.”

“As a technical legal matter, I have no idea what that means,” Sedita said.

Overall, the DA’s association is “generally supportive” of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s criminal justice reform measures, which includes the appointment of a special monitor to consider a special prosecutor in certain cases.

Sedita said he and other district attorneys continue to discuss the reform efforts with Cuomo’s office.

But he also cautioned against wholesale changes.

“The broader issue that’s here is the courts get their legitmacy basing their deicsions on law and facts, and not marrying what they do to the popular will and the popual whim,” he said. “I have never heard of a triggering event of what is popular and what is not.”