A former University Medical Center official testified Tuesday that former hospital chief Lacy Thomas did press county lawyers to get around state laws.
But Mike Hayes, who agreed with Thomas' position, said their intentions were never "sinister."
"Do I mean be illegal? Absolutely not," said Hayes, who worked in the hospital's contracts department. "We did not mean illegal. We did not mean break the law."
Thomas faces charges of theft and misconduct by a public officer stemming from contracts UMC awarded to five companies during his three-year tenure running the county's only public hospital.
Prosecutors contend that Thomas wanted to enrich friends and associates from Chicago with contracts that were unnecessary or duplicated services.
But Thomas' lawyer, Dan Albregts, says his client brought in his Chicago contacts because he had worked with them at a large county hospital there and trusted they could help solve the major problems at UMC.
At the first day of Thomas' trial, Clark County's top civil district attorney, Mary-Anne Miller, described an "unpleasant" meeting with Thomas where he told her to find a way around the law or get out of the way.
The conflict with the district attorney's office stemmed from Thomas' desire to bend what he considered rigid rules so the public hospital could better compete with its private counterparts, Hayes testified.
The debate centered on a 142-year-old legal decision known as "Dillon's Rule," which limits local government powers to whatever the state specifically gives it.
Thomas and other hospital officials thought the rule was outdated and proposed pushing the limits of interpretation, Hayes told the jury.
"If the state is silent on something, we can do it," he said. "Until you try it, you don't know it's prohibited."
He used the example of classifying an MRI machine as a computer because computers have looser contract bidding requirements, which he said would quicken the process of buying the MRI machine.
"There's nothing sinister here," Hayes said.
Contact reporter Brian Haynes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0281.