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The Bar strikes off a lawyer who faked a divorce and a married clerk

A former Ontario lawyer and jurist convicted of fraud and bigamy was found guilty of professional misconduct and struck off the bar on Wednesday.

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

Morton, 62, has been suspended from practicing law since August 2018 following his arrest by York Regional Police for forging his divorce order so he could marry his coroner while being married to his woman for 30 years.

In 2019, he pleaded guilty to two criminal charges in Newmarket court, where his wife, Rhonda Shousterman, still presided as justice of the peace. Morton received a six-month conditional sentence of 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,” Bar Discipline Counsel Patrick Copeland said during a zoom audience.

Summarizing the history of the high-profile case, Copeland told the panel that Morton’s conduct took place over a relatively long period of time and involved many deceptive actions, including the creation of a bogus divorce order that he had used to apply for a marriage license. Morton married Jennifer Packwood on May 12, 2018 in St. Catharines, knowing he was under police investigation.

While not acting in his professional capacity as a lawyer, Morton nonetheless used his legal skills and training “to perpetrate fraud and in doing so he risked discrediting the vast majority of legal professionals including the integrity is unblemished, while potentially fueling cynicism from the public perspective on the profession at large, ”Copeland told the panel.

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

Morton, former president of the Ontario Bar Association, was licensed to practice in Ontario in 1988 and in Nunavut in 2011. He has already resigned from the Law Society of Nunavut. He hung up his shingle 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. He did not contest his delisting either.

Sandberg told the panel he had little to add other than to acknowledge that Morton had been “an exceptional lawyer whose advocacy was well known and respected throughout Ontario and beyond, including included in the Supreme Court of Canada ”.

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

“Many of us remember and recognize Mr. Morton’s contributions,” Murchie replied.

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

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