State Secretary of Health Services Dennis Smith on Tuesday "categorically and unequivocally" denied having an affair with the department's top lawyer, an accusation that surfaced when the woman's husband was charged with trying to kill her by burning her with gasoline.
In a written statement released through a consultant, Smith described Mary Spear as a lifelong friend who grew up in the same Illinois town as his family whose knowledge of the health insurance industry led him to hire her in January as the department's chief legal counsel.
"I categorically and unequivocally deny that I have ever had a relationship with Mary Spear beyond friendship," Smith wrote in the statement. "She is in the thoughts and prayers of her many friends for her health and well-being."
Smith, who is married with four daughters, wrote that he would make no further public comments about the matter.
Spear's husband, Andrew Spear, 59, who is charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide and several other charges, was ordered to stand trial Tuesday after a preliminary hearing.
During the hearing, a Madison police detective testified that Mary Spear told him that Andrew Spear picked her up from work, drove her to his woodworking shop in an East Side storage locker, beat her and attempted to set her on fire after dousing her with gasoline.
Detective Jamie Grann was the only witness to testify, and under a recent state law, testified to what other witnesses, including Mary Spear, had told him. State law now allows prosecutors to offer hearsay testimony at preliminary hearings to spare crime victims the trauma of having to face their alleged tormentors.
But Andrew Spear's lawyer, Brian Brophy, asked to subpoena Mary Spear so that he could question her about events.
Among the things Brophy said he would have tried to solicit from her was that during the week before the Aug. 16 incident the couple had argued about emails Andrew Spear found that he believed showed that she and Smith were having an affair.
The day of the incident, Brophy said, Andrew Spear showed up at her office with copies of the emails between Smith and Mary Spear. He said they went to his workshop in the storage locker to talk about it when an argument occurred. During that confrontation, Brophy said, Mary Spear started a fire that Andrew Spear put out before it reached her.
When they went back to their condo on Cherokee Circle they got into another altercation when she tried to take both of their laptop computers and leave.
Brophy also implied during questions to Grann that Mary Spear, 54, had also struck her husband, who is five inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than her. Grann also said on cross-examination that he had not seen any burns on her body, despite her statement that her arm and leg were on fire at one point. Grann also testified that Andrew Spear told him that his wife had lit the fire in the workshop.
Circuit Judge David Flanagan denied Brophy's request to subpoena Mary Spear, telling Brophy that the issues he raised would be important at a trial, but at a preliminary hearing, where the only question is whether it is plausible that the defendant committed a felony, her testimony was not necessary.
After the hearing, Brophy declined to talk about specifics of the case.
"We shared in court what we believe the evidence to be," he said.
But he said that the new state law allowing hearsay testimony at preliminary hearings "takes out any due process." Prosecutors might as well just have a judge read a criminal complaint and not put any witnesses on the stand, he said.
Flanagan agreed to lower Spear's bail from $507,000 to $107,000 and left in place restrictions barring Spear from having contact with his wife or Smith and being near their homes or the Department of Health Services.
On Friday, Mary Spear filed for divorce from her husband because their marriage is "irretrievably broken," according to the divorce petition.