Law Society Disbars Ontario Lawyer Who Faked Divorce Then Married His Paralegal

A prominent Ontario lawyer and legal scholar convicted of criminal fraud and bigamy was found guilty of professional misconduct and disbarred Wednesday.

The revocation of James Morton’s attorney’s license “in these circumstances is really the only reasonable sanction,” Barbara Murchie, chair of the Law Society’s three-member tribunal panel, said at the conclusion of the disciplinary hearing.

Morton, 62, has been suspended from the practice of law since August 2018 following his arrest by York Regional Police for falsifying his divorce order so he could marry his paralegal while still married to his wife. 30 years old.

In 2019, he pleaded guilty to two criminal charges at Newmarket Court, where his wife, Rhonda Shousterman, was still presiding as Justice of the Peace. Morton received a suspended sentence of six months under house arrest, along with a community service order.

Morton’s house arrest ended in March 2020, but the “corrosive effect” of his actions “really cannot be overstated,” Law Society disciplinary attorney Patrick Copeland said during a zoom hearing.

Summarizing the well-publicized case story, Copeland told the panel that Morton’s conduct occurred over a relatively long period of time and involved numerous deceptive actions, including creating a bogus divorce order that he used to apply for a marriage license. Morton married Jennifer Packwood on May 12, 2018, in St. Catharines, despite knowing he was being investigated by police.

While not acting in his professional capacity as a lawyer, Morton used his legal skills and training “to perpetrate the fraud and in doing so risked discrediting the vast majority of legal professionals whose integrity is unimpeachable, while potentially fueling cynicism.” . of public opinion about the profession in general,” Copeland told the panel.

“Such cynicism can ultimately erode and undermine public confidence in the legal system and judicial processes.”

Morton, a former president of the Ontario Bar Association, was licensed to practice law in Ontario in 1988 and in Nunavut in 2011. He has since resigned from the Nunavut Bar Association. He hung his tile in Hamilton in 2016.

Morton did not appear to be present during the virtual proceeding but was represented by attorney Glenn Sandberg. Morton voluntarily admitted that the facts described in an agreed statement of facts constituted professional misconduct. Nor did he challenge his disqualification.

Sandberg told the panel he had little to add except to acknowledge that Morton had been “an outstanding lawyer whose defense was well known and respected throughout Ontario and beyond, including the Supreme Court of Canada.”

He was also generous with his time, sharing his wisdom as a lawyer and as a mentor to students, other lawyers, judges, police officers, prosecutors, Sandberg continued. “The legacy of his decades of contribution to the profession will survive these unfortunate events,” Sandberg said.

“Many of us remember and acknowledge Mr. Morton’s contributions,” Murchie responded.

Copeland noted that media scrutiny of the case “amplified the damage done to the public’s perception of the administration of justice and the legal profession in general.” He also noted that Morton had no prior disciplinary history and had been fully cooperative since his license was suspended.

Morton agreed to pay $4,500 in costs to the Law Society.

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