The state District Attorneys Association is formally expressing its opposition to the executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week making state AG Eric Schneiderman a special prosecutor in cases involved the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of law enforcement, saying it is “gravely flawed” and raises “serious legal issues” regarding how these cases will be investigated.

DAASNY President Gerald Mollen, the Broome County DA, said the executive order should never have been issued, and will cause each elected local DA to “navigate many uncertainties” due to its “imprecision.” Mollen called on Schneiderman, who has established a special unit headed by Executive Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg to handle these cases, to provide the association with “protocols” to address its many concerns.

Among the ambiguities cited by Mollen are the fact that it might take the AG’s office too long to respond to incidents – particularly if they occur in rural areas – potentially wasting critical early hours of an investigation. Also unclear to Mollen is what might constitute a weapon under the executive order – A garbage can lid? An iPhone case shaped like a gun (which, by the way, elected officials at the state and federal levels are trying to get banned)? A pipe?

In addition, Mollen questioned whether a DA has to turn over an investigation to the AG’s office if a victim injured during an incident involving law enforcement dies several weeks after the fact, and also wanted to know if the AG will be investigating cases in which a law enforcement office involved is a state employee.

“It is understandable that the governor and the attorney general sought to address the concerns of the families who tragically lost loved ones in encounters with the police,” Mollen said in a statement. “However, district attorneys have far more experience – and resources – in dealing with these cases than either the governor or the attorney general.”

“District attorneys have also learned from long, sometimes painful experience that our legal system cannot always heal the pain a family suffers from the loss of a loved one. But our system of criminal justice, although not perfect, does work. Only in the most exceptional circumstances have governors of the state have used their power to usurp the elected district attorneys.”

Mollen also quoted the late former Gov. Al Smith, who said: “only when the governor is satisfied beyond question that the interests of the public demand such exercise and when the governor is satisfied beyond question that the district attorney is either disqualified or is willfully (sic) neglecting to perform his duty, or is guilty of corrupt or illegal conduct.”

According to Mollen, the district attorneys unanimously agreed at their July 12 conference in Saratoga Springs on a statement that chided state leaders for failing to come together on “true legal reforms” in the wake of the no bill decision by the Staten Island grand jury in the chokehold case of Eric Garner, and accusing them of feeding and giving legitimacy to a “false notion” that there is a crisis of confidence in the state’s criminal justice system.

(Schneiderman addressed the DAs at their conference, but members of the media were not allowed to attend – in fact, one member of the CapTon team was thrown out of the event).

Since December 2014, Mollen said, the District Attorneys Association has devoted considerable time and effort to draft proposed legislation that would provide for greater transparency into the investigation and grand jury action with respect to citizen fatalities involving the police.

“Sadly and ironically, the executive order does nothing to create greater transparency to the Grand Jury process that the public craves and the District Attorney’s Association supports,” the DA concluded.

The DAs are not alone in their upset over the executive order. Law enforcement unions have also questioned the need for a special prosecutor, suggesting the blanket policy adopted by the governor is inappropriately singling out police officers for special (negative) scrutiny and treatment.

Advocates and family members of individuals who died at the hands of police were also not thrilled by the executive order. They were hoping for something broader and also longer lasting (the order only lasts a year, though Cuomo has said he’ll re-issue it if the Legislature fails again to reach a criminal justice reform deal during next year’s session).

UPDATE: In response the to the DA’s association, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi referred me to the governor’s comments last week during his appearance on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s show on MSNBC, during which he said, in part:

“I spent a lot of time talking to the DAs in this state, 62 of them. I’m a former assistant district attorney to Bob Morgenthau, Manhattan district attorney. I’m the former attorney general. I said, ‘Look, they know as lawyers that you don’t have to have an actual conflict of interest; just the perception of a conflict of interest is a problem. And that’s what this is. I think we have great DAs. Bob Johnson in the Bronx did 200 cases against police officers. But the apparent conflict is a problem. And that has to be addressed. And this is the simple solution; remove those cases to another prosecutor.”

“…I think if you talk it through with the district attorneys, they realize that we have a critical problem here. It’s all across the state; it’s all across the country. They understand the apparent conflict. And I think if it’s done the right way, you can come to a mutual understanding, which is essentially what we did here…Now, I’m sure the DAs don’t love it, I’m sure the police don’t love it. But I don’t know if anyone will say it is unreasonable.”