Judge Says S.F. Public Defenders Can't Represent Filmmaker Kevin Epps

San Francisco filmmaker Kevin Epps was arrested for a homicide in Glen Park but has since been released. (Kevin Epps/Facebook)

A judge on Wednesday disqualified the entire San Francisco Public Defender's Office from legally representing award-winning Bay Area filmmaker and activist Kevin Epps on murder charges due to a potential conflict of interest.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken agreed to stay her ruling until Monday while the Pubic Defender's Office appeals the decision. Until then Epps will continue to be represented by a public defense attorney.

Epps, 51, was jailed last week without bail on charges stemming from the fatal shooting death of 45-year-old Marcus Polk at Epps’ Glen Park home in 2016. At the time, Epps claimed self-defense, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office declined to charge the filmmaker, citing insufficient evidence.

Epps has a previous felony on his record and was barred from possessing a firearm when he shot Polk.

It’s unclear what new evidence the D.A.’s office has to now charge Epps.

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Judge Van Aken agreed with the prosecutor that because attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office had represented Polk in past cases, the office cannot now represent the man charged with his murder.

The judge said Polk’s previous public defenders could have confidential information about Polk that could be shared with the public defense attorney representing Epps in his self-defense case.

The judge said it’s possible some attorneys in the office could have “intimate, domestic” information relating to conflicts between the Epps and Polk households.

CBS SF Bay Area has reported Epps was married to Polk’s former wife.

Even if no information was shared, Van Aken said there could be a “significant public perception” of a conflict of interest, especially given the notoriety of the case.

Van Aken said the city’s new public defender, Manohar "Mano" Raju, "heightened" that notoriety by appearing with the defendant during his initial appearance before the court last week.

In an emailed statement, Danielle Harris with the Public Defender's Office, said:

"The state is obligated to provide Mr. Epps’ counsel with anything and everything that it has in its possession that speaks to any violent history or violent tendencies related to Marcus Polk. Those violent tendencies are the crux of Mr. Epps’ defense and that information needs to be provided by the state, if it honors its ethical obligations. The fact that Mano Raju — our new public defender — personally appeared for Mr. Epps is neither here nor there.

Mr. Epps deserves his day in court to show that the District Attorney was right over two-and-a-half years ago when they decided they couldn’t overcome the facts supporting his self-defense claim. Nothing has changed."

If the Public Defender's Office loses its appeal, the court will appoint a defense attorney to represent Epps.

The courtroom was crowded with family and supporters of the acclaimed filmmaker, known for his documentaries, including "Straight Outta Hunters Point" and "Rap Dreams." Epps’ mother ran from the courtroom in tears following the judge’s decision.

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