Judge halts Kilpatrick testimony after Detroit contractor's lawyer falls ill

Bobby Ferguson and defense lawyer Gerald Evelyn, right.

A federal judge scrapped testimony in the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trial Monday after veteran defense lawyer Gerald Evelyn fell ill in front of jurors and was rushed to a Detroit hospital.

The development marked a dramatic and, at least temporary, break in the high-profile City Hall racketeering trial and threatens to derail the flagship case in a years-long federal probe of Detroit corruption. The trial entered its sixth week Monday but was expected to last until January and feature testimony from almost 200 government witnesses.

Evelyn’s medical condition was not immediately clear, though he appeared conscious before emergency responders wheeled him out of federal court in downtown Detroit and into an awaiting ambulance. His fellow defense attorney, Mike Rataj, was grim-faced as he climbed aboard the ambulance to join Evelyn.

Evelyn, 60, was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital shortly after noon, said James C. Thomas, the attorney defending Kilpatrick.
“It appears to be something that’s a concern to everybody,” Thomas said, adding he is hopeful that Evelyn will return soon to court. “He’s a strong guy.”

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds canceled testimony Tuesday and is reviewing contingency plans with lawyers involved in the case.
“The court will make a decision tomorrow afternoon about when to resume or what happens,” federal court spokesman Rod Hansen said. “We are hoping for the best.”

Evelyn, Ferguson’s lead defense attorney, was stricken with an unknown medical emergency at about 11:40 a.m. while cross examining Detroit businessman Tom Hardiman, one of several Detroit Water and Sewerage Department contractors allegedly extorted by Evelyn’s client, Bobby Ferguson.

While questioning Hardiman, Evelyn asked for a momentary break. He then put his head on the table as lawyers involved in the case, reporters and court watchers stood and jurors exited the eighth-floor courtroom.
A few frantic moments followed as a nurse was called, and a wheelchair brought into the courtroom.

Kilpatrick grabbed the wheelchair and lifted it above the rows of benches to get to Evelyn in the cramped courtroom.

Court officials then cleared the courtroom.

Kilpatrick and Ferguson had worried looks on their faces as the nurse tended to Evelyn.

Veteran defense attorneys milled about on the courthouse’s first floor, stunned and concerned about Evelyn’s condition.

“I hope he’s OK,” Bloomfield Hills defense lawyer Walter Piszczatowski said.

Evelyn, a Detroit lawyer known for his impassioned arguments and rapid-fire delivery, has represented Kilpatrick previously in an unrelated matter and been involved in a number of high-profile criminal cases.

He defended Ferguson in this summer’s bid-rigging trial in federal court, which ended in a mistrial.

In the corruption case, Ferguson’s defense team includes Rataj and attorney Susan Van Dusen, but Evelyn was the lead defense attorney. He has represented Ferguson for several years.

Robert Snell
Robert Snell is the Detroit News federal courts reporter. He can be reached at rsnell@detnews.com or (313) 222-2028.