Goodbye, Crowne Plaza; hello Holiday Inn & Suites (eventually) (copy)

The Holiday Inn & Suites in downtown Pittsfield, formerly the Crowne Plaza, has entered into a one-year lease to provide space for court proceedings, including jury trials.

PITTSFIELD — Pinched by coronavirus pandemic safety precautions, officials with the state Trial Court are expanding their footprint in Pittsfield.

They have made a $854,100 reservation at the Holiday Inn & Suites, starting Monday.

The state has signed a 12-month lease with the 1 West St. hotel to provide space for jury business, according to Jennifer Donahue, a spokeswoman for the state Trial Court. The lease caps months of work by the court system and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance to find locations away from existing facilities that are able to provide enough space to ensure that people can maintain safe distances and avoid transmission of the novel coronavirus.

“The Trial Court is working hard to provide access to justice by expanding jury trials to off-site locations in counties where they are needed,” Donahue said in an email to The Eagle about the new lease.

The lease includes access to enough space inside the hotel for two courtrooms and quarters for jury deliberations — in short, for “all aspects of jury trials,” Donahue said. The lease payment to the Holiday Inn, owned by the Berkshire Hospitality Group LLC of the New York borough of Brooklyn, requires the facility to cover the cost of utilities, maintenance and other equipment.

Andrew McKeever, spokesman for Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington, said jury trials are expected to begin April 5 at the Holiday Inn.

McKeever said the office has been told that, in addition to the smaller jury trials, the Pittsfield hotel will be able to accommodate 12-member jury trials once they again are scheduled. A recent order from the Supreme Judicial Court says that 12-member jury trials will not resume before May.

Donahue said the hotel space will be able to handle both kinds of jury trials, for civil and criminal cases.

Though court operations largely have continued through the pandemic, save for occasional closings and often employing remote video connections, trials were suspended for many months until resuming locally March 1, on a limited basis. Smaller proceedings, known as jury-of-six trials, resumed in Pittsfield inside the Berkshire Superior Court.

The SJC’s recent order allowed jury-of-six trials to restart at the superior court in Pittsfield but signaled that proceedings soon could expand “as experience and conditions permit.”

The state had considered space at the Berkshire Mall and Berkshire Community College before landing on use of the Holiday Inn, a five-minute walk from the main court facilities at 76 East St.

In an interview in late February, Harrington said her team has been preparing for the resumption of trials, as a backlog has grown. At the end of February, the local DA’s Office listed 2,456 pending cases: 2,181 in district court, 74 in juvenile court and 201 in superior court.

“I’d love to be trying criminal cases. It does seem that we’re making progress,” Harrington said at the time.

While civil trials were set to restart as of March 1, on a limited basis, no criminal trials were yet in the offing. That’s because defendants have the right to have their cases heard by 12-member juries, which aren’t yet being convened.

According to files at The Eagle, the group that owns the hotel is run by Anil Sachdev, who bought the former Crowne Plaza hotel for $1.1 million at a foreclosure auction in April 2017.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.