MALONE –– A large room in the Franklin County Courthouse currently used for storage will be converted to a new space for grand juries in order to meet state court system requirements for social distancing.

The move will make it unlikely the county in the near future will be able to create a new courtroom it had been seeking.

The county Legislature on Thursday authorized District Attorney Craig Carriero to use funds his office has received through civil asset forfeitures to renovate the third-floor room into space for grand jury panels to meet. Because the space is currently largely empty, turning it into a meeting room should not require extensive work, County Manager Donna Kissane said.

“It’s time to do something with that space,” Kissane said.

The room could be ready in time for a grand jury to be impaneled next month, said Legislature Chairman Don Dabiew, D-Bombay.

The room is on the same floor as the other county courtrooms.

The move is necessary “in order to comply with the social distancing executive order due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the resolution authorizing the renovations states. Grand juries in New York state are made up of between 16 and 23 people, and prosecutors and witnesses would also be in the room during proceedings.

The state court system determined that the existing grand jury room was not sufficient to meet current needs, Kissane said.

Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, asked about the impact of the new grand jury room on county plans to build another courtroom in the courthouse; Kissane said that plan would likely not go forward at this time.

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