barronFrom the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent a lot of time talking up his naming of a special prosecutor – state AG Eric Schneiderman – to investigate any cases that occur over the next year in which unarmed civilians die at the hands of law enforcement.

Advocates wanted this.

Or, at the very least, they preferred it to Cuomo’s initial criminal justice reform proposal made in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, which called for an independent monitor to review these cases after the fact and determine whether a special prosecutor is warranted in instances where a grand jury refused to indict.

But the Schneiderman solution doesn’t go far enough for some – including Assemblyman Charles Barron, an outspoken (and often controversial) Brooklyn Democrat – who has decided to go a step further by proposing a bill to ban grand juries in police-related death cases altogether.

Instead, Barron said, the determination of whether to indict would be made at a preliminary hearing, the proceedings of which – unlike grand juries – would be open to the public.

The assemblyman argued that going this route would add “transparency” and “accountability” to the process.

“There’s no sense in having a special prosecutor who’s also part of the system, and he can impanel a grand jury and have a secret proceeding,” Barron said during a telephone interview Thursday.

“We won’t know how he’s presenting witnesses or interpreting forensic evidence..This is not in any way interfering with the special prosecutor. In fact, it strengthens him, because he will have to present in public, and not in a private grand jury setting.”

Barron already has a bill number for his proposal (A.8364), and he’s currently shopping around for co-sponsors and someone to carry the measure in the Senate.

The assemblyman plans to formally unveil his plan at a press conference Monday on the steps of City Hall in lower Manhattan, and will be reaching out to advocates – including the Garner family – in hopes that they will join him. He’ll be joined by his wife, Councilwoman Inez Barron (she’s got his old downstate seat, while he is now sitting in her old Albany seat), who intends to introduce something similar at the local level.

There is precedent for this move.

Barron modeled his bill on legislation that was just recently signed into law in California by Gov. Jerry Brown. Prior to this, two counties in the Golden State – Los Angels and Santa Clara – had already opted out of the grand jury process in cases in which a law enforcement officer might have caused a civilian death.

Not surprisingly, the bill in California – the first of its kind in the nation – was opposed by law enforcement groups, which argued that the grand jury process is an important and useful prosecutorial tool.

Some have suggested that secrecy in the grand jury process is necessary to protect witnesses who testify there.

But Barron rejected that argument, noting trials are public, and witnesses who testify during those proceedings are often going much further than simply indicting someone, voting whether to send them to prison for long periods of time.