gaveldecision.jpgSan Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu today proposed legislation calling for a program to provide free legal representation to city residents involved in serious civil cases.

Residents involved in proceedings concerning child custody, shelter, safety or health would be able to receive counsel from the private legal community, which would work pro bono on the cases.

Chiu said people dealing with the potentially life-changing results of these cases are not guaranteed the right to legal assistance while people charged with even a minor criminal offense have such a right.

Poor people are often the most affected–eight of 10 U.S. residents who live below the poverty line are not represented in civil proceedings, according to Chiu’s office.

The legislation he introduced today would not immediately establish a right to counsel in civil proceedings, but rather would mark the beginning of a firm commitment to that eventual goal and declare San Francisco the nation’s first “Right to Civil Counsel City.”

A one-year program devised with the collaboration of various stakeholders would still have to be approved by the board and could be implemented some time in fiscal year 2012 or 2013.

Chiu said the legislation would be an example of how “the city is at our best when we stand up for our shared progressive values.”

The proposal is part of a partnership between the city and the Bar Association of San Francisco and private legal aid organizations in the city, according to Chiu’s office.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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