My Story: Rhonda Nordlander-NaliiNSRLP
Rhonda contacted the SRL Project back in the Fall of 2012 when we were still interviewing participants. As a receptionist at a community legal clinic, Rhonda was accustomed to working with people who had legal problems and could not afford counsel – and then after an acrimonious divorce, she found herself in the same position.
While Rhonda was legally aided for her initial divorce, this only covered the custody aspects of the case (which are in fact still in dispute, see on) and Rhonda struggled to find help to resolve the financial and property matters. After two years she turned to a private lawyer to try to get things moving, only to expend $26,000 on what she felt was “absolutely nothing”(and a further $15,000 on her share of a custody assessment). Rhonda finally settled these issues by representing herself – he could not afford the $20,000 retainer she was asked for – but felt that it was “unfair”.
Then the matter of custody of her two sons became a live issue again. Once again, Rhonda was on her own and overwhelmed by the stress and the complexity of the proceedings she faced, which now also involved the Children’s Aid Society. Generally she says she has had good experiences with judges “but I often do not understand what they are saying, and I don’t know the proper etiquette and don’t want to offend anyone.” Rhonda tried to find a lawyer who would help her with “unbundled” legal services. Broke and worrying about all the time she was taking away from work to attend court, Rhonda tried mediating with her spouse, but to no avail.
Desperate to find a lawyer to help her and without the means to pay for one, Rhonda recently applied for a Rowbotham order that would give her public funding for representation. She was informally assisted by two lawyers whom she met when she attended and participated in the SRL Dialogue Event in Windsor in May 2013. Justice Dunne of the Ontario Superior Court denied Rhonda’s Rowbotham application, saying that in his opinion she was “intelligent and articulate” and surprisingly, “I do not find the issue too complex for the Applicant to understand.” Justice Dunne agreed that Rhonda would have difficulty funding a lawyer from her own means but went on to say “Even if there was to be an order for state funded financing, the Applicant would have a very difficult job finding a lawyer to take the case.”
It is well known that SRLs have trouble finding lawyers to represent them once they have tried to muddle through the best they can on their own. Justice Dunne appears to be recognizing that reality – but as Rhonda says “How can the fact that many SRLs find it hard to persuade lawyers to take on their cases be a reason to deny me assistance with representation?”
Rhonda’s story has also been covered in the mainstream media: see for examples http://tinyurl.com/m3q4apu and http://tinyurl.com/kax37ks.