A Milwaukee County Circuit judge blocked a portion of testimony Tuesday from an expert witness in the felony theft trial of contractor Homer Key.
Attorney Patricia Brown was expected to testify about her analysis of Key’s contracts with Milwaukee County as well as her opinion of backdated, or retroactive, contracts, a topic that is at the heart of forgery and conspiracy charges against Key. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge William Brash said Tuesday he would allow Brown’s contract analysis but not her opinion of retroactive contracts.
That decision prompted Key’s attorney, Richard Hart Jr., of Milwaukee-based Hart Law Offices, to request Brash then strike testimony from Milwaukee County Chief Auditor Jerome Heer, who testified about the county’s process for backdating contracts.
Brash said he would withhold his decision on Heer until after Brown testifies.
Key faces two counts of theft by fraud, one count of forgery and one count of conspiracy to commit the crime of having a private interest in a public contract. He pleaded not guilty in September and faces a maximum of $70,000 in fines and 29 ½ years in prison.
Key is accused of colluding with former Milwaukee County employee Freida Webb to steal more than $40,000 in federal grant money from 2005 through 2011. Webb hired Key from 2005 through 2010 to run an educational program for disadvantaged business enterprises.
Heer testified Monday that Webb did not follow the county’s retroactive contract procedure in 2011, when she tried to run the program without Key.
Webb failed to get written contracts with her instructors or secure liability insurance to cover them as subcontractors for the county in 2011 and therefore was unable to pay them. She asked Key for assistance, and they drafted a retroactive contract under which he would be responsible for those instructors, an arrangement that circumvented the problem.
Webb and Key drafted that contract in December but dated it back to when the program began in fall 2011. Heer testified that the retroactive contract was fraudulent.
But letting Heer testify about such contracts while preventing Brown from doing the same, Hart said, raises questions about the fairness of Key’s trial and handcuffs the defense.
On Tuesday, Brown had been expected to testify that backdating a contract is not always illegal. She first testified without the jury present and said she had found an article supporting her argument.
However, Brown said she was unable to find supporting case law or published court opinions and said she has not dealt with backdated contracts in her 17 years in practice.
Based on that information, the judge said Brown was not qualified to testify about backdated contracts.
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