A prominent lawyer in Nunavut and Ontario has pleaded guilty to forging divorce documents and illegally marrying a second woman while he was already married.
James Morton, who has law offices in Iqaluit and Hamilton, Ont., pleaded guilty to forgery and bigamy charges in an Ontario courtroom last week.
His second wife, who believed he was legally divorced when they got married, describes the crime as “the most traumatic event of [her] life.”
According to an agreed statement of facts, Morton was married in 1990 and remains legally married to his wife, a justice of the peace in Newmarket, Ont. But a few years ago, Morton began a relationship with his long-time law clerk in Hamilton.
In 2016, James moved in with the woman and they got engaged in March 2017, with plans to get married in October of that year.
The woman legally divorced her first husband in September 2017 and believed that Morton was also in the process of getting divorced.
However, Morton never filed for divorce. Instead, he created a fake divorce order to show his fiancée. It stated his divorce would take effect a few days after their wedding, leading them to cancel the event and reset a date for the spring 2018.
In April 2018, Morton’s fiancée gave the divorce order to the law student working in their law office to take to the superior court in Newmarket, Ont., in order to get a certificate of divorce to apply for a marriage licence.
In a victim impact statement, the woman described that decision as “the most cascading event and pivotal moment of [her] life.”
The court at the clerk could not find any record of the divorce case and the court office began an internal investigation. It concluded the divorce order was fake and reported the incident to York Regional Police who began a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, after the law student was unable to get a certificate of divorce, Morton said he would look into the issue. He created a fake certificate of divorce, forging the signature of the clerk who had signed his fiancée’s divorce papers, and took it to Hamilton city hall to get a marriage licence.
In an interview with police in May, Morton’s wife said she and Morton were upset and confused about who had created the fake divorce order and why.
While Morton was aware police were conducting a criminal investigation into the matter, he and his fiancée got married on May 12, 2018 in St. Catherines, Ont.
Eleven days later, Morton gave a voluntary statement to police stating he was still married and had never filed for divorce. He also admitted to creating the fake divorce order saying he was “very sad, desperate, drinking” at the time and “barely remembered doing it.”
He also acknowledged his relationship with his law clerk but denied telling her he was ever divorced. When confronted with an invitation to their wedding, he said he had “nothing” to tell the officer about it, then exercised his right to remain silent.
‘Lies, deceit, and betrayal’
In her victim impact statement, the woman said she was contacted by police a month after their wedding. When she confronted Morton about why, he admitted he never got divorced and left their house.
The following day, police also informed her Morton had used her legal divorce papers in order to file his own.
“In a single moment, while sitting in an interview room at a Hamilton police station, that detective unleashed two years of lies, deceit, and betrayal,” she wrote. “Everything that I had believed was fabricated. Everything was a lie.”
The woman said she lost not just a husband, but a job she was “deeply passionate about,” as well as two friends and colleagues and their spouses “who were more like family than friends.”
She also claims that due to media coverage of the case and information from the law society in Ontario, many people believe she was involved in the crimes, which has negatively impacted her personal and professional reputation.
“To this day, I feel blamed and re-victimized by something I did not do.”
The woman said while she does not accept Morton’s behaviour or trust him, she has forgiven him and they are working on their friendship.
“I forgave him for me, so I can move forward with my life.”
Morton has been suspended indefinitely from practising law in Nunavut. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on the charges for July 24.