Prominent Nunavut lawyer charged with bigamy, forging documents
James Morton's licence to practise in Nunavut under review
A prominent Nunavut lawyer’s ability to practise in the territory is in jeopardy, following allegations that he forged divorce papers in order to marry his law clerk.
James Morton, 58, faces charges for bigamy, attempting to obstruct justice, forging court documents and related crimes.
Bigamy—the act of marrying someone when you are already married—carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Morton lived in Nunavut for a decade before returning to Hamilton, Ontario, in 2017, and continues to represent many clients in the territory. He has approximately 50 active files, 20 of which are in Nunavut.
Morton is a former president of the Ontario Bar Association and has taught at Osgoode Hall law school and Humber College.
In 2015, Morton received the Law Society of Nunavut’s Neil Sharkey Volunteer Award. Until this week, he wrote the Legal Ease column for Nunatsiaq News. He didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Alison Crowe, president of the Law Society of Nunavut, says a committee will meet soon to decide whether disciplinary action is needed. If his licence were suspended, this would prevent him from practising law in the territory.
She expects a decision will be made within a week. “We’re just considering our options right now,” she said.
Legal aid clients of Morton’s with concerns should contact the territory’s legal services board, while Morton’s private clients may contact the law society, said Crowe.
“Our primary and most important mandate Is to protect the public. We’re not here to protect lawyers. We’re here to protect the public.”
The Law Society of Ontario is seeking to temporarily suspend or restrict Morton’s licence to practise law in the province until disciplinary proceedings are complete. The matter will be heard during a law tribunal hearing in Hamilton on Aug. 13.
Documents filed with the tribunal allege that Morton forged the signatures of two judges in April, in order to obtain a divorce certificate for himself. However, Morton’s wife, who is a justice of the peace, had never been served with divorce papers.
Morton later married his law clerk on May 12 in Niagara.
But a court clerk at the Newmarket Superior Court thought something seemed amiss with the filed divorce papers, according to an affidavit from law society investigator Brian Borg.
Upon inspection, the divorce order bore a fictitious file number, said Borg. There were no corresponding court records.
As well, the dockets of the judges whose signatures appeared on the order showed they had not presided over the matter. And a national divorce registry showed no record of a divorce being initiated.
The court clerk alerted the police, which launched an investigation.
Morton surrendered himself at the York Regional Police Station on June 26, where he was arrested and charged. Morton was released that day. Among the conditions of his release is that he remain in Ontario.